Conversion in Christianity is the name given to the personal, voluntary decision to believe in Jesus of Nazareth as Messiah and God as his divine Father . This is often linked with the intention that this step will be life changing. What exactly is meant by this can vary from person to person (and depending on the particular Christian trend). Often the aim is to claim the grace of God for oneself personally, to live in conscious “fellowship with God” and more conscious “ following Jesus ”, to experience God's action in one's own life, to trust God and / or a life according to the To lead Christian love commandments ( love of God and love of neighbor ) and to obey the respective Christian laws of faith .
Introduction and basics
Prior to conversion, the person may have been of another religion or of no religion. The convert can also have been a purely formal member of a church without having had an internal relationship with it. It's about turning to God.
Conversion is also described differently in Christianity by numerous theologians, for example after the church teachers Johann Conrad Dannhauer (Strasbourg, 1649) and Johann Andreas Quenstedt (Wittenberg, 1685), according to which the Holy Spirit turns us to divine power and us to God and his kingdom leads (conversio). Well-known conversion experiences in this sense are the conversion of Paul of Tarsus ( Acts 9,1-18 EU ) through an apparition of Jesus and the conversion of Augustine through reading the letter to the Romans as well as the “tower experience” of Martin Luther .
Christian mission and evangelism want to lead to conversion. Conversion refers to the turning of the individual to Jesus and thus to Christianity, while Christianization refers to the spread of Christianity on a geographical or ethnic level.
In Christianity, conversion is closely related to baptism . Forced conversion under threat to one's own life and body, in the event of death, punishment or violence also for friends and family members, is closely related to Christian forced baptism and anti-Judaism and contradicts the New Testament concept of conversion (see also: forced Christianization ).
Conversion in the New Testament
The preaching of Jesus is about turning to God. In summary, Jesus says: “Repent and believe in the gospel !” ( Mk 1.15 EU ; Mt 4.17 EU ). It is about the fundamental realignment of a person. Conversion therefore means opening oneself up to Jesus' words without reservation and devoting one's entire life to the service of Jesus. There are two groups of words in the New Testament that describe the process of conversion, ἐπιστροφή / ἐπιστρέφω (epistrophê / epistrephô) and μετάνοια / μετανοέω (metanoia / metanoeô) .
- ἐπιστρέφω (epistrephô) has the basic meaning to turn around, to turn around (again), to return and is translated with this choice of words if it is a matter of an ordinary turn around or return:
- Where the word ἐπιστρέφω (epistrephô) is used in connection with turning around, returning to God (changing attitude and behavior), it is translated as convert :
- And he will convert many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God (epistrephô). ( Lk 1.16 Lut )
- For you were like the erring sheep; but you are now converted (epistrephô) to the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls. ( 1 Petr 2.25 Lut )
- The word is used in the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew shûb , where it means conversion, turning to God. In the New Testament ἐπιστρέφω (epistrephô) occurs 39 times, 19 times it describes a common turning, turning, e.g. B. ( Mt 10.13 EU ) and 20 times it denotes turning around, turning around / converting to God, e.g. B. ( Acts 15,19 EU ), the turning to Jesus Christ and God, which leads to a fundamental change in the whole of life.
- At the apostolic council in Jerusalem ( Acts 15.3 EU ) the word (epistrophê) is used for the conversion of the Gentiles .
- They were solemnly adopted by the community and traveled through Phenicia and Samaria; In doing so, they told the brothers about the conversion of the Gentiles and brought great joy to all.
- μετἀνοια ( (metanoia) change of thinking) is also translated as change of mind (change), repent or repent, repent . The word is used 34 times in the New Testament, including 21 times by Jesus of Nazareth ( Mk 1.15 EU ).
- The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent (metanoia) and believe in the gospel!
- And if he would sin against you seven times a day and come back to you seven times and say: I am sorry! (metanoô) you shall forgive him. ( Lk 17.4 Lut )
- This word is, among others, John the Baptist ( Mt 3,2 EU ), of Simon Peter ( Acts 2,38 EU used) and Paul to urge repentance (repentance, repentance and turning to God).
Denominational Understandings of Conversion
While all denominations and schools of Christianity agree that conversion is a decision to adopt Christianity, opinions differ greatly on what constitutes conversion and how it is effected.
Roman Catholic Church
In the Roman Catholic Church , baptism is the place of first, fundamental conversion.
"By believing in the good news and by baptism, one rejects evil and attains salvation , which is the forgiveness of all sins and the gift of new life."
Unbaptized adults (in the Roman Catholic Church ) are first accepted into the catechumenate in a separate rite and anointed with catechumen oil . During the time of the catechumenate, those willing to be baptized ( catechumens ) are introduced to the faith. The baptism of adults traditionally takes place in the Catholic Church in the celebration of Easter Vigil, in which the baptismal water is consecrated and the parishioners renew their baptism promise.
The Protestant churches of Lutheran and Reformed stamp understand conversion to be the personal, free decision to follow Jesus Christ , to recognize him as Savior and Lord. According to the reformed Heidelberg Catechism , it is assumed that this decision is the beginning of Christian life. In the Lutheran formula of Concord of 1573, Article II (Of Free Will) says that conversion of the Holy Spirit is brought about through preaching and the Word of God; see also Rom 10,17 EU .
There are two different perspectives on the participation of God and man in conversion.
In Arminianism , as with the Remonstrants , Methodists and in parts of the Protestant regional churches , the Bible is interpreted in such a way that the path to God is open to everyone (grace ahead) and it is up to the individual to decide whether or not to accept this offer.
In churches with Calvinist doctrine, such as the Reformed Churches , the doctrine of double predestination developed by Augustine von Hippo applies , according to which God decided before all time who will be among the saved and who will be among the lost. Therefore, according to this theology, a person is only converted if God has so decided before all time. It is God alone who brings about conversion. This conversion brings about a fundamental change in man.
But since people do not know how God has decided in each individual case, these churches also know mission and the call to conversion.
Evangelicalism and Pietism
In pietism and the Evangelical movement conversion is constitutive. There is no Christianity without conversion. The individual consciously places his life under the rule of God. Conversion is usually accomplished through a prayer to Jesus Christ. In it, you confess that you are a sinner and ask Jesus Christ to rule your life. At evangelistic events, the altar call prompts such a prayer.
In principle, this type of conversion is possible for both baptized church members and for the unbaptized. As a rule, the unbaptized is baptized according to the rite of the corresponding church.
Charismatics in the Roman Catholic Church prefer to speak of "life surrender" instead of conversion when referring to this type of conversion, because according to official Catholic teaching, rebirth occurs at baptism and cannot be repeated.
Some see conversion as a unique and precisely datable point in the life of the individual and sometimes doubt whether a person is a Christian if he has no experience of conversion.
In addition, there are Christians who, as in Calvinism, regard the selection of God as decisive, but interpret it as an election for tasks (now and in aeonian life), analogous to the election of Jeremiah ( Jer 1.5 EU ). In contrast to the doctrine of double predestination, they do not see a choice between heaven and hell , since in their view ultimately all people will be saved (see universal reconciliation or universal reconciliation ).
Baptists and Mennonites
In Christian communities in the Baptist and Mennonite direction, conversion in the sense of a personal, free decision for Jesus Christ is an indispensable prerequisite for admission to the baptism of faith . Conversion is necessary for salvation, the basic prerequisite for salvation and initiates rebirth.
Charismatics and free Christian communities
For most charismatic and free church congregations , membership in a church is not decisive. Rather, the "handing over of life" alone is seen as necessary for salvation. An invitation to hand over one's life often takes place in the context of an appeal or altar call . What is essential is a person's free decision to recognize Jesus Christ as Savior and Redeemer for their own life separated from God by sin. Through this decision, which need not be public, the so-called rebirth occurs. The rebirth takes place through the death of the old and the birth of the new spirit "from above". As a result, the born again person wishes to adapt his heart or soul (mind, will, feelings) and body to a godly life according to the example of Jesus. This is done out of gratitude for the undeserved new and eternal life .
Basics can be found in Paul's letter to the Romans ( Rom 10.9 Lut ): “For if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will you saved ”as well as in the Gospel of John ( Joh 3,3ff. Lut ):“ Jesus answered and said to him: Verily, verily, I say to you: If someone is not born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. "
- William HC Frend / Michael Wolter / Pius Engelbert / Falk Wagner / Walter J. Hollenweger / Hans-Werner Gensichen: Art. Conversion I. Old Church and Middle Ages II. 16th to 20th century II / 1. Reformation period II / 2. From 1577 to the beginning of the 20th century III. Systematic-theological IV. Practical-theological V. Religious history . In: Theologische Realenzyklopädie 5 (1980), pp. 439-486 (comprehensive overview).
- Lothar Coenen (Hg): Theological glossary of terms for the NT. R. Brockhaus, 1993, pp. 69-76.
- Markus Matthias: Conversion and rebirth , in: Hartmut Lehmann / Ruth Albrecht (ed.): History of Pietism, ed. by Martin Brecht, Volume 4: Beliefs and lifeworlds. Göttingen ( Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht ) 2004, pp. 49–82.
- Esther Maria Magnis : God doesn't need you - a conversion , Rowohlt Verlag, Reinbek bei Hamburg 2012, paperback 2014, ISBN 978-3-499-62436-0 .
- The celebration of the admission of the validly baptized into the full community of the Catholic Church (the term conversion, ie “conversion”, is intentionally avoided).
- "Conversion" by Karl Hörmann in "Lexicon of Christian Morals"
- The conversion of Augustine
- Conversion of Francis of Assisi
- Essay on the relationship between rebirth and conversion