Conversion: Turning from Darkness to Light

Presented at the Symposium “Distinctively Christian, Distinctly Mongolian” in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, on March 13, 2003

By Dr. Gailyn Van Rheenen

I.  Introduction:

Story about Conversion from Kenya

It was my final Sunday in Kenya after serving for thirteen years as God’s minister.  In additional to the prayerful farewell, I remember that a vibrant, thirty-year-old lady, a faithful Christian, responded to the invitation by walking to the front of the meeting with a young girl at her side.  The Christian lady explained her prayer request:

“Today I do not respond out of my own need for forgiveness and cleansing but rather the need of this young lady.  Remember how ancestral spirits once possessed me.  At that time I was just as this young lady–bothered, frightened, and bewildered.  After hearing of the greatness and majesty of God, his sovereignty over the world, and Christ’s defeat of the powers, I responded to God in faith, and you prayed for me.  Because of these prayers, I have been delivered.  After baptism, the church encouraged and instructed me in the way of Lord.  I praise God Jehovah who is the source of my salvation.  This young lady is now possessed by ancestral spirits just as I was.  I have taught her about the kingdom of God, the covering of the blood of Jesus, and the indwelling Holy Spirit.  She believes in Christ and has repented of her sins and desires to come under the sovereignty of God.  She wants your prayers and desires to fully come to Christ in baptism.”

The young lady was then asked to confess her belief in Jesus as God’s Son and her Lord and was exhorted to give total allegiance to creator God.  After her confession a number of Christians gathered around her and prayed to God that she might be delivered.  Later that day, after still more exhortations and times of prayer, she was taken to the river and united with Christ through baptism.

Story of the Conversion of the Thessalonians:  The Thessalonians became a “model” to “all believers in Macedonia and Achaia” (1 Thess. 1:7) because they “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven” (1 Thess. 1:9-10).

In this presentation I will first describe

The human ego as the foremost obstacle to effective ministry and define Christian ministry in the context of these human limitations.

The transformation that occurs at conversion.

The ministry of Jorge Fagundez of Montevideo, Uruguay, as one model of ministry among animistic people.

The Limitations of Human Ability:  We are “Jars of Clay” (2 Cor. 4:7)

Paul provides one of the most extensive descriptions of Christian ministry in 2 Corinthians 2:14-6:2.  A central theme of this passage is that God leads us in his mission (2:14), we are not “equal to such a task” (2:16), our competency comes from God (3:5), “we do not preach ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord” (4:5), and “we are . . . Christ’s ambassadors” (5:20).

Within this context Paul writes, “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (4:7).  An understanding of this passage within its context will enable us to understand the limits of human ability.  The verse connects three significant phrases: “this treasure,” “jars of clay,” and “this all surpassing power.”

The phase this treasure has two possible referents.   First, Paul may be speaking of his ministry as a treasure.  He writes, “Since through God’s mercy, we have this ministry, we do not lose heart” (vs. 1).  Paul encourages Corinthian leaders to continue faithfully, to not “lose heart” (vs. 1, 16), despite persecution (vs. 8-12).   A second possible referent of “this treasure” is “the light of the gospel” (vs. 4, 6).  Paul writes that the gospel is to be presented authentically, not in darkness as if “veiled.”  Christian ministers set “forth the truth plainly . . . not with deception.”  Unlike unbelievers who are blinded by “the god of this age,” Christians are recreated.  God, who first made light shine out of darkness (Gen. 1:2), has “made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (vs.6).   Like Moses, who was with God and reflected God’s glory, missionaries must be transformed into God’s likeness as they look upon God (2 Cor. 3:7-18, especially vs. 18). The passage contrasts the spiritual blindness of unbelievers to the light of the gospel, which enables Christian evangelists to become beacons of light.  Because they are being transformed into the image of God (3:18), these Christian servants no longer “preach themselves” but Jesus as Lord (vs. 5).  The term “treasure” infers the value of Christian ministry, the importance of proclaiming to unbelievers the light of the gospel.

This treasure is housed in “jars of clay.” Clay jars were imperative to families in the ancient world because they were used to carry water from the local well.  Although essential, they were common, scarred, and chipped.  Paul did not describe Christian ministers as jars of gold or silver to indicate their beauty or value or as jars of bronze to denote their strength.  Christian servants rather are jars of clay, who minister out of weakness.

This verse climaxes by acknowledging that God uses jars of clay, weak Christian servants, to carry out His mission so that all will know that “this all-surpassing power is from God” and not from innate human ability.

This principle can be seen throughout scripture.  God used men like Moses and Jeremiah, who acknowledged their weakness by asking “Who as I that I should go?”, to carry his mission.

Applications of the “Jars of Clay” Perspective to Deliverance Ministry:

Human ego stands as a formidable obstacle to effective missions.  Christian ministers with immense talent and creativity flounder when they rely only on their own power, and less talented missionaries who look to God to empower their work frequently are used by Him to accomplish His purposes.

Two Cautions:

We think that the power of God is centered in certain human personalities.  They may be called into the country from the outside because of their deliverance ministry to preach healing crusades.

Humans frequently misuse the power of God and contort it for their own selfish, egocentric purposes.

The Willowbank Report says, “Power in human hands is always dangerous.  We have to mind the recurring theme of Paul’s two letters to the Corinthians—that God’s power, seen in the cross of Christ, operates through human weakness (e.g., 1 Cor. 1:18-2:5; 2 Cor. 4:7; 12:9, 10).  Worldly people worship power; Christians who have it know its perils” (Stott and Coote, 1980, 327).

In the first centuries of the church the common Christian had the ability to depend on God and to pray to God to cast out demons.

The final statement of  the Lausanne consultation Deliver Us from Evil(DUFE) in August, 2000, says:  affirms the need and essence of spiritual warfare but says:

“Engaging the Evil One is not the work of heroic individuals..”

“We were saddened by stories of people, emboldened by self-assured certainty and money, who come from outside, overwhelm local Christians and carry out hit-and-run ministries of spiritual conflict that (1) presume superior knowledge of the local reality, (2) treat local Christians as inferior or unaware, (3) claim credit for things that local Christians have been praying and working toward for years and (4) leave uneven results and sometimes, pain, alienation, and even persecution of the local church, while claiming great victory.”  (Moreau 2000, xxiii, xxiv, xxv)

The power of God is power in relationship and should be requested in prayer.  The use of power words should be avoided.

There is power in name of Jesus but it is a phrase of relationship rather than of power.

God is not a magical God who responds to certain coded phrases like “in the blood of Jesus” or “in the name of Jesus.”

The final statement of the DUFE (Deliver Us From Evil) Consultation of the Laussanne Conference describe the use of such formulas:

“We call for discernment concerning magical uses of Christian terms and caution practitioners to avoid making spiritual conflict into Christian magic.  Any suggestion that a particular technique or method or spiritual ministry ensures success is a magical, sub-Christian understanding of God’s workings.”

“We strongly caution against taking ideas, methods or strategies developed in one society and using them uncritically in another.

Scott Moreau’s caution:  “The emphasis on discerning and naming demons before we can have power over them is approaching a form of Christian animism. . . .  The idea of needing the names of to have power over spritis is found in magical thinking around the world.  An Indian friend of mine who has long been involved in spiritual warfare on a personal and corporate level has told me that one of the most difficult problems he faces in sharing the claims of Christ with his Hindu friends has come after they see well-intentioned Christians engaging in what they believe to be simple magical practices. . . .  Prayer is not intended to be a vehicle of violence, but a means of fellowship, growth and strength.  One danger of an attitude of “spiritual violence” is that we may become the very thing we are fighting against” (Moreau 2000, 267).

Juliet Thomas of India asserts that the current generation of Western missionaries in her country superimposes their own models of spiritual warfare over traditional beliefs, thus amplifying already tense religious frictions within the country.  One presenter advocated advocated a militant model of spiritual warfare by defining conversion merely as a change of power.  The result is that Christian activities, such as healing, dedicating and blessing, look very much like those of animists—except that the source of the power is God rather than Satan (Moreau 2000, 295-97).

The Nature of Preaching:

Focused on the Kingdom of God rather than the dominion of Satan.

Scott Moreau says, “Our goal should be to give Satan and demons a selectively appropriate inattention.  Do not let the flaw the excluded middle become the flaw of the expanded middle; major on God and minor on demons, not the other way around” (Moreau 2000, 270).

III.  Defining Conversion

A.  Since ministry should begin theologically rather than anthropologically, one significant beginning point is definingconversion in Scripture.

B.  Definition of Conversion

1.  David Wells defines conversion as “turning to God.”  He writes, “Christianity without conversion is no longer Christian because conversion means turning to God” (19  , 27).  Although conversioninvolves deep and complex psychological and sociological changes, it is primarily the work of God as demonstrated by God saving action in Jesus Christ, the convicting and regenerative work of the Holy Spirit, and God’s revealing of himself to us both naturally (Ps. 19:1-6) and specially (Ps. 19:7-9; 2 Pet. 1:20-21).   Wells writes, “God’s grace is supernatural, in so far as it is quite different from human potential, power, or wisdom” (19  , 23).

2.  The uniqueness of Christ also makes Christian conversion unique.  Wells says, “Christian conversion is as different from other forms of conversion as Christ is from the founders of other faiths” (23).

3.  Paul in his testimony of his conversion and call to apostles uses the words of Christ to define conversion.  It is an opening of eyes, a turning from “darkness to light” and from the “power of Satan to God,” receiving “forgiveness of sins,” and receiving a new home, “a place sanctified by faith” in Christ (Acts 26:18).  Each phase indicates the distinctiveness of the Christian way and the significant paradigm shift that occurs when the unbeliever accepts by faith the sovereignty of God, the covering of the blood of Jesus, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

4.  Thus we might define conversion as “the process whereby we turn from our sins in repentance and turn to God through faith in the finished work of Christ upon the cross for us” (Wilson Chow and John Reid in forward of Wells’ Turning to God, p. 11).

5.  It must first become clear that we are not saved by our own methodologies and mechanisms but by the mighty hand of God.

C.  Elements of Conversion

1.  When ministry is divided into various types of encounters (truth encounter, commitment encounter, power encounter) the terminology infers that conversion is a human act.

2.  This type of terminology is much more militant than I feel comfortable.  It infers that human encounter brings about salvation that only God can bring.

3.  Perhaps, at best, we can only call come of these items elements of conversion.

IV.  Three Forces in the World Leading to Brokenness and Sin  (James 4:1-10)

A.  The Desires of the Flesh (vs. 1-3)

B.  The Press of the World (vs. 4-6)

C.  The Shifting of Satan (vs. 7-10)

Preparation for Ministry begins with us–in our hearts–and within our communities of faith (local churches).

V.  The Ministry of Jorge Fagundez

·      Always looking for theologically integrated, culturally appropriate models for nurturing people who are coming out of Spiritism

A.  Background of Jorge Fagundez:  Pastor of the Church of the Word also called “The Covenant of Grace”;  Special Ministry:  to help Spiritists come out of bandage;  three children, aged 5, 13, 14.

B.  Major Tenets of Spiritism:

1. Belief in the continuity of life after death and that the living can communicate with the dead.

For many Spiritism revived after WW II families wanted to contact their sons who died in the war.

Belief that gods can be accessed by guides to help solve immediate problems of life.  During theOrunko ceremony, the gods come down and “ride” the mediums, who ae considered the cavalos(horses) of the gods.

“por las dudus”  —  “just in case” .  People make sacrifices to Imanja “just in case” it might help a very difficult situation.

2.  They say that God is a spirit like the Holy Spirit.  God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit are only advanced spirits who are still evolving.  After death there are various stages of the spiritual world.  The spirits go through increasingly purified levels.  Evil spirits have higher weight and thus only reach only Jesus in the 6th stage of development.  They deny Jesus’ bodily resurrection.

C.   Why did the Bible speak against communicating with the dead? What they really are not speaking to the dead but to demons or fallen spirits that imitate the voices of dead people.  (Deut. 32:17; Ps. 106:37-38; 1 Cor. 10:19-20).

D.  How do people access the dead? They frequently play “Juego de la Copa” (“The Game of the Cup”).   They ask the cup questions and the spirit called responds by moving the cup to the answers on the table.  Many people are spiritually addicted to the game and have to renounce it to be released.  Those who participate in these games develop fear, insecurity, and desire to die themselves.  This is like the ouigi board.  The board was originally created by Spiritists and then became a board game.

E.  Two Ways in which People Become Involved in Spiritism:

1.  Consciously:  When people inquire of the occult or request information from a spiritist to solve problems.  Oppression begins.  It depends on the heritage of the person and how a person is living as his or her moral lives.  The depth of ones oppression of a person will depend on heritage and moral life of a person. We should not look lightly on things like the horoscope, throwing of cards, Taro cards, palm reading,  All these things that seem harmless are things that God forbids and get us in contact with the spiritual world.

2.  Unconsciously: People will participate in parties in Brazil and do not know that they are participating in forms of Umbanda.  When people partakes of the food, a pact is established.  We are making a pact with the spirits and allowing them to come into our lives.  People have brought images or statues of deities from other countries and then come to our congregation asking for spiritual help because things were happening in their lives and they did not know why.  Today this lady destroyed these gods and became healed.

F.         Practices of Spiritists:

1. Telekinesis:  Objects are moved perhaps beyond our reach.

2.  Levitation:  An object or person is lifted into space.

3. Automatic writing:  In a trance a person writes.  Many New Age books have been written in this practice.

4.  Mandola:  what is created when a person, who is in a trance, paints a picture or makes a musical creation under the guidance of the spirits.  Mandola is considered a door to the spiritual world

5. Materialization:  In a session a spirit is appears before a group of people.

G.  The church is seen as the major enemy of the spiritist movement.  Spiritists say that for 1800 years the church has been blocking the spiritual development of humankind.  Spiritism is on a firmer rock.  If the church is alive, Spiritism will die.  If the church die, spiritism will flourish.

H.  Four Steps of Helping a Person Come Out of Spiritism:

1.  Learn about a Person’s Heritage: Teaches from the Ten Commandments about idolatry.  He talks to them to determine if there are any signs/symptoms indicating that a person has been involved in Spiritis

Symptoms:  People will say I am crazy.  People have problems sleeping at night because of premonitions.  (These Premonitions are not sins but signs of spiritual bondage.

A person can see shadows moving.  He begins to hear voices or fears persecution. Many people within one family commit suicide or there are many accidents.  There is tendency to divorce and the family accepts this as normal.  People have paranormal powers.  (Ex:  A person knew what would happen in the Gulf War a month before it occurred). Astro-projections without having studied it or encounters with extra-terrestrials (Ex:  A group, called Rama, they make circles, begin chanting, and have contact with the terrestrials).  These sound like science fiction but people are suffering.

Fagundez told of one woman who said the she knew what would happen in the Gulf War.  She had “seen the outcome.  He asked if anyone in her family had this gift.  She responded, “Yes, her aunt.  Spiritism is like food with poison to someone who loves life.

2.         Learn about Childhood (Family Relationship)

a.  To him this is the most difficult.

b.  He tries to find out traumatic experiences in a person’s life.

c.  One may not remember these experience but the Holy Spirit strengths them to remember what they have suppressed.

d. It is important to find out what peoples’ spiritual fears are (rape, problems with parents, death, etc.)

e. Determining occult influences is only a part.  Perhaps, when young, a person is taken to the curendero.  If a spirit is called into a person, it may remain even when the person is grown.

3.  Learn about Connections with the Occult

a. Has the person gone to acurendero or “healer” or to a spiritist.

b. Have the parents’ participated in the occult?

c. Has the person played play “Juego de la Copa” or some other Spiritist game?

d. A person’s spiritual heritage is like one’s biological heritage.  An occult relationship can be transferred from generation to generation.

4. Lead the Searcher to Receive Pardon and Forgiveness

a. The person first must understand the infinite mercy of God.

b. A person does not just come out of the occult.  He/she cannot just decide to leave.  The person must cut,renounce, the past activity.  This is how we cut the influence.

c. This involves confession.  The person renounces all the spiritual influences that bind him.

d. Confession is very powerful.  I must verbally and consciously reject/renounce that practice.  If I know the names of the gods, I should renounce those names.

e. Then a Christian leader needs to pray for your deliverance.

f. Jesus has all authority over the spiritual realm

I.  Responses to the Fagundez Presentation:

1.  Cynicism:  It is all in peoples’ minds.

2. Curiosity:  I am going to find out about this.

3. Conviction of God’s Power—That only in Christ can we live above the powers of Satan.

4. Repentence:

J. Sarah’s Repentence:

1.  Very interested in the signs of the zodiac (astrology) and tarot cards.

2. Had a friend who was part of a coven.  This friend told her that she had been chosen to be a special part of her religion.

3. She also described many dreams, most of which created great fear.

4. Her grandmother was heavily involved in Spiritism and her other grandmother was somewhat involved.

5. Jorge asked her if she had relatives who had committed suicide or died young, and there were several.

6. Her mother had multiple health and mental problems.

7. She had multiple body piercings, including one on her tongue.

8. She did not want to come to the meeting in which Jorge Fagundez spoke but felt that she could not say “no” since everyone else was going.  She tried not to listen but could not exist.

9. Convicted, acknowledged her occult heritage.  Prayer.

V.  Conclusion:

A. Truth about God in relationship to the animist:  God is creator who is not very far from any one of us, active in human life (Acts. 17:24ff; Deut. 20:4; Ex. 15:11; Deut. 32:5).

B. Truth about Christ in relationship to the animist:  Christ is the liberator who has defeated the principalities and powers putting them in open shame (Col. 2:15).

C. Truth about the Holy Spirit in relationship to the animist:  The Holy Spirit is the one who fills us full so that we cannot be filled with the principalities and powers (1 Cor. 6:19-20).  The Holy Spirit is the emancipator who frees us from sin (Rom. 8:13).

D. Truth about the church in relationship to the animist:  The church is God’s distinctive people who stand together against the principalities and powers (Matt. 16:18-19; Note the plural of Eph. 6:10-20).

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