When you asked for the evidence, you asked for a big picture with lots of details. I am just doing the big picture at the moment. I appreciate you hanging in on this one. Here is ZONE 4: EVIDENCE FROM THE COMMON EXPERIENCE OF CHRISTIANS
The fourth form of evidence is the Common experience of Christians throughout history and nations. This is of a different order to the personal experience with which I began. Not all Christians experience the same things, our diversity is amazing, some of our disunity is scandalous, but the following grounds of our unity are also amazing. I think this argument is somewhat invisible to those who cannot look closely into Christian experience, but it is still important. In the tradition it is called Testimonium spiritum sanctum.
I find it presents three more kinds of evidence: freedom, Spirit, and cliches.
Firstly, we humans pursue freedom to pursue our purpose. Something drives our shared sense of purpose. This is a number of things.
We are personally guided and spiritually inspired from time to time. Many find it really hard to talk about, even though all religions and spiritualities concur. We can go further into the dynamic of this freedom.
As a church, we are reformed and renewed from time to time. We often come together after a private conversation or a public event and say “wow did I say that. I didn’t even know that I knew that.” In my many cross-cultural experiences in Australia, the Pacific and Asia, the Middle East and Africa, Christians translating across skin and culture all share stories like this. That is why the Bible is read and revered universally – it fits intelligently.
So strong is the working of this free intelligent purpose, in fact, that the phrase ‘organised religion’ is a bit of an oxymoron, rather like ‘military intelligence’. People don’t run the church! Someone else is at the driver’s wheel. The church’s ongoing existence is a sheer miracle – just read the financial accounts, or attend a synod meeting, if you want proof for the existence of God. In the ongoing shared experience of the church, generation after generation, and in culture beyond boundaries, a purpose is working out. What is the explanation? We are inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit into something much bigger than us.
Secondly, we experience being filled by the Holy Spirit, exquisite life in gentle power, like a diamond in solitaire, like our child in its mothers arms. We discover that we are all gifted and called by God to serve in some unique way, perhaps by temperament, by talent and by spiritual gifting. Why are we all able to share the same stories about this ? We can go on to speak of a love for community, grace and goodness. The Spirit empowers us with both his compassion and his person. Pardon me while I wax eloquent on this, it really is that good.
Thirdly, new Christians, how do I say this with respect, come up with clichés. People who are not taught to say these things, come up with statements that I have heard a thousand times. For instance: a mother who had been a Christian a month or so – “Before we did these studies I sort of knew about God, but now it is different, now I know Him, do you get what i am saying, it might be too subtle for you…” . I rejoice to hear the same old same old. It is so beautiful.
It is never exactly the same, mind you, but the pattern of life is the same because the same Spirit is growing them in the same holiness, the same relationship with God. A part of this is the ‘speciality’, shall we say, of Christianity, but a lot of it comes from the simple workings of our shared humanity.
NOTE: I am not just arguing for someone to quote the bible back at me, and I am not relying on the Bible as an authoritative source that can quench any argument, as though the Bible was magical. I am taking a Christian (biblical) interpretation of reality, destiny, morality and identity and history (the Y points) and showing that it holds true in the light of the evidence.
NOTE: I am not claiming that the world is perfectly beautiful and everything is proceeding exactly as planned under the direct hand of the Creator. That sort of view is either childish or immoral. I know the world suffers enormously and people cry out for God to act, and judge God for allowing the consequences of human failings. I also know that God has acted in our suffering and that I am one who is sent by the Master to do his work.
This level of responsibility is what is at stake in this whole set of arguments . Our picture of God and reality provides the diagnosis for ultimate existence and value. Three crude examples illustrate my point. If this material world is all there is, then the resultant lifestyle has limited or no altruism, with the pursuit of lots of nice experiences while you still can. Or, if this world is a trial zone for improving upon your failings in the past life, then the resultant lifestyle shows a lack of support while you learn what lessons you are supposed to get. Or if this world is fallen due to human sin, and God has come to suffer and sacrifice himself, then the resultant lifestyle shows compassion and service for all humankind. This lifestyle is what is at stake in discussing what we believe about reality, morality, destiny and history. It is not our inward experience of spirituality that matters most, but the kind of life that arises from it.