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Christian practices of immediacy

On September 7th I attended four sessions at the ‘There is More’ conference of the Evangelisch Werkverband in Veenendaal. It was very interesting to hear Sam Storms, Randy Clark and Paul Martini speak, and to be present at their ‘ministry’ time that concluded every session.

On several occasions the word ‘immediacy’ was used, and after listening and observing for almost five hours, some of the experiences that I had in 1991 at the John Wimber conference in the IJsselhallen (Zwolle) came back to my mind. There I had met some of the Kansas prophets (Paul Cain, Brent Rue), and together with some of my colleagues I even had lunch with Jack Deere, one of the leading Vineyard theologians.  We discussed what we saw, and in particular the notion of immediacy popped up at our conversation.

Now, in the Basiliek at Veenendaal, I had the impression that I was walking in circles. Again I was confronted with the Christian practice of immediacy. More so, I was exposed to the power of a full-scale theology of immediacy.

Immediacy is a very important notion in the fabric of Biblical narrative. For example, it is a beloved catchword within the narrative flow of the Gospel of Mark: ‘At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness’ (1:12); ‘At once they left their nets and followed him’ (1:18); ‘Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed’ (1:42). In the book of Acts a slave-girl having a spirit of divination meets Paul. When she keeps crying out for many days that the apostle with his friends are ‘bond-servants of the Most High God’, Paul is annoyed, and turns to the spirit saying, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!’ Again, Scripture says that it came out at ‘that very moment’ (Acts 16:16-18). The idea of immediacy accompanies many narratives of early Christian history, and here we have the very root of what may be called a theology of immediacy.

Nevertheless, such theology is rather limited and restricted if it legitimizes itself only by immediacy, even if it claims to be based on Biblical immediacy. James McClendon in his (baptistic) systematic theology comes close to supporting a theology of immediacy, but this is not really the case. It needs a community to open the Bible and to understand that ‘this is that’ (what we experience is what we read in the Bible) and ‘then is now’ (Bible times, even the future the Bible foresees, are our times). Biblical immediacy needs an interpretive community to prevent it from deviating. Bonhoeffer too says: ‘In der Kirche (…) stellt der menschliche Logos die Frage: Wer bist Du, Jesus Christus (…) Die Antwort ist gegeben, die Kirche empfängt sie täglich neu.’ (Bonhoeffer, Wer ist und wer war Jesus Christus?, p. 16) Christ is in the church, and here we enter the community of tough questions, and here we may expect to receive some answers.

The church is a hermeneutical body, an interpretive community that makes critical reflections regarding practices of immediacy. The leaders are not in control, the community is. Biblical truth is not legitimized by Christ-centred immediacy or by its leaders, but by an interpretive and discerning community. Discernment is needed to understand how and when the Spirit moves in his sovereignty.