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While contemplating answers to several related questions (link 1, link 2, link 3), I've started to have second thoughts on my original impression about the concept of conversion, perhaps wrongly understanding it as an inherently evident experience or event, rather than a more subtle, gradual, and maybe subconscious process. When I say an experience or event, I'm not necessarily referring to a dramatic Damascus road encounter, but perhaps some form of an 'aha' moment of enlightenment. For instance, Latter-day Saints have the concept of 'gaining a testimony', which appears to involve an experiential aspect, yet I'm uncertain if they distinguish it from the moment of conversion.

Which faith traditions posit that the moment of conversion is an unmistakable and self-evident spiritual event or experience?

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  • Related Question There is a related question, #99990. "Is there Scripture stating we will realize an unmistakable event..." which deals with scripture and several saints who have thus experienced said phenomena.
    – ray grant
    Commented Feb 6 at 23:53

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Which faith traditions postulate that the moment of conversion is an unmistakable event or experience?

Most Christian denominations would admit this to be so, but not all conversions are a result of an unmistakable event or experience. Some Christian conversions are quite gradual after much reflection and thought. Both types of conversions are seen as valid amongst the vast majority of Christian denominations.

Many denominations have employed the phrase of a Damascus Road Conversion, which refers to a profound, often sudden, spiritual conversion akin to what St. Paul had along the road to Damascus.

A Damascus Road Conversion refers to a profound, often sudden, spiritual transformation akin to the Apostle Paul's experience in the Christian Bible. It's a moment of clarity that changes one's beliefs and life direction. Have you ever encountered a pivotal moment that reshaped your entire perspective? Join us as we explore these life-altering experiences and their lasting impact. - What is a Damascus Road Conversion?

St. Augustine of Hippo is considered a saint in several denominations. His conversion is in some respects a Damascus road conversion. He is venerated in all those Christian denominations which venerate saints.

Conversion, or the turning to God, is a movement that is possible for us at every moment of our journey - not simply once and forever, but continually and ever more deeply.

During the Easter Vigil, on the night between April 24 and 25, 387, Augustine was baptized by Bishop Ambrose in the Cathedral of Milan together with his son, Adeodatus, and a small group of friends, including the 'brother of (his) heart', Alypius.

Thus was brought to its happy end the long and tiring journey of Augustine's conversion to the Catholic faith. Augustine himself records in Book 8 of the Confessions the climactic moment in which he surrendered to God's grace and was relieved of the doubts and fears which had so long kept him imprisoned. How many things came together now in one moment to bring him freedom: the story of a visiting countryman, the song of a young child, repeating Tolle Lege, Tolle Lege (Take up, read. Take up, read) moving him to pick up St. Paul's Letter to the Romans to find there the response to his heart's longing.

How sweet did it suddenly become to me to be free of the sweets of folly: things that I once feared to lose it was now joy to put away. You cast them forth from me, you the true and highest sweetness, you cast them forth, and in their stead you entered in, sweeter than every pleasure...(Conf. 9, 1).

Certainly the story of Augustine's conversion numbers among the most well-known and most significant of all of Christian history: well-known, through Augustine's own recording of it in his Confessions; significant, not only for the impact which his life of faith - as monk, bishop, and theologian - has had on the Catholic Church ever since, but also on the many men and women of every period whose own personal lives have been altered by reading it. - April 24 - The Conversion of Saint Augustine

The conversion of the wealthy Jewish banker Alphonse Ratisbonne is yet another example.

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Faith Traditions? There are several Protestant denominations that recognize the ability of converts to "know", "experience", and be assured of their conversion.

  • Fundamental Baptists (of various strips) promote the idea of "knowing the day and the hour" of their conversion. Some churches even would doubt the conversion of those who can not come up with such a chronology! Water baptism is most often given to those experiencing assurance of salvation as soon as possible.
  • Methodist, especially the early ones, considered specific moments as the time of conversion in their life. John Wesley pointed to a time when traversing the stormy Atlantic, as a moment of assurance of salvation occurring (John Wesley Autobiography)... In the early 1800s circuit riding preachers held brush-arbor revivals in which earnest seeking with cries and tears was expected, and final moments of assurance with shouts of praise! Sometimes such seeking of conversion lasted all night, or even days of seeking, until they "broke through" to salvation. (Peter Cartwright, Autobiography: Backwoods Preacher, 1857)
  • Charles Spurgeon, pastor of the London Tabernacle, noted the exact time when he received assurance of salvation while listening to a Methodist preacher in a church in Wales orate on the verse, Look unto Me, all the ends of the Earth, and be saved.(Isaiah 45:22)
  • Many independent Pentecostal churches encourage "praying through" for salvation, until full assurance is obtained. These prayer meetings are often accompanied with prayer warriors standing by and speaking in tongues or worshipping in other ways. The Healing Revivals in the 1940-70s of A.A. Allen, Oral Roberts, Raymond T. Richey, Aimee Simple McPherson exhibited much of this conduct. Water baptism was usually enjoined immediately after such experiences.
  • There was an organization called The Full Gospel Business Men's Organization which printed much literature. It was interdenominational, so the articles related personal "Damascus Road" type experiences from men of many, many denominations (whether their denominational boards advocated such or not; Acts 9).

Progressive Assurance Having listed these actual historical events experienced by seekers, however, the majority of modern conversions are based on gradual acceptance of the teaching of the Gospel, logically and rationally presented. The technological, literate situation of modern societies lends more to this type of conversion.

Instead of a radical "aha moment" there is a more progressive understanding of the basic beliefs (doctrines) with convincing facts upon which they are based. These converts may not experience an emotional high, but rather, a deep conviction of the veracity of the message of the Gospel of Jesus. But we must be carful to not rule out future physical manifestation of the Holy Spirit in seekers' lives.

References The preceding is a digest, a summary of the wide range of books written in different centuries of Church history:

  • The Story of God's Mighty Acts - C.H. Spurgeon
  • Thy God Reigneth: the Story of Revival in Argentina - Edward Miller
  • Portal in Pensacola - Renee DeLoriea
  • The Acts of the Holy Spirit in the Church of Christ Today - Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship International
  • When the Spirit Comes With Power - John White
  • The Present Renewal - Dick Iverson
  • Autobiography Peter Cartwright: Backwoods Preacher - ed. Strickland, 1857
  • I Saw the Welch Revival (1904-5) - David Matthews, Moody Press, 1957
  • Divine Influence: the True Story of the Extraordinary Work at Cambuslang and other places in the West of Scotland - Alexander Webster, 1742
  • John Wesley and George Whitefield in Scotland - Rev. D. Butler, 1899
  • The Ten Greatest Revivals Ever - Elmer Towns/Douglas Porter, 2000
  • Fresh Anointing - Terry Edwards
  • A History of the Worldwide Awakening of 1992-1995 - Richard Riss, Portland Bible College, 1996
  • The Jesus Movement - Larry Eskridge
  • What Happened to You?: Hippies, Gospel Outreach, and the Jesus People Revival, 2016
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At the end of the day conversion is always a choice. Awareness of conversion is not always immediate, but the fruits of conversion are undeniable where people have been converted. We have only to look for them and honestly acknowledge that they are there. The Lord said, "By their fruits ye shall know them".

The word "mistake" means "to take in error".

In general I believe it is not possible to prevent people from willfully "taking in error" the testimony that something is true by their taking it to be false, contrary to their own knowledge.

However, what is manifest from the Holy Ghost and the Light of Christ is self-evident.

Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning is plainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light. And every man whose spirit receiveth not the light is under condemnation. (Doctrine and Covenants 93:31-32, denominational teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)

People can receive a testimony but subsequently neglect it or fail to appreciate it for what it is--just like we can breathe air and not be grateful nor consider that God has done it. But it is there and all who know what it is must either give God the glory, or diminish themselves through ingratitude.

People can choose to ignore it. People can misinterpret it. People can misrepresent it. But they cannot deny it without misrepresenting what they know.

So there is possibility for "mistakes" on our end. But in the end, all will stand to account before God for how we held the truth that was revealed to us, and how we would have treated the truths that could have been revealed to us.

What is revealed of God is self-evident, but we do not always recognize that evidence.

Numbers 12 does appear to show there are degrees of apparentness in the revelations that God gives:

If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house. With him will I speak mouth to mouth [face to face], even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the Lord shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses? (Numbers 12:6-8)

However, this does not in any way diminish from the reality that God speaks to us and gives us knowledge in His still, small voice. If we are prone, or if we are not already aware of the existence and nature of God, there is a way we can be awakened to the reality of these things. He sends His servants telling people about the reality of God, the purpose of life, and how to prepare for eternity through repentance and the redemption brought about by the Son of God. It is necessary that

that the time shall come when the knowledge of a Savior shall spread throughout every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. (Mosiah 3:20)

It is ultimately impossible to remain neutral. We must choose what portion of the Savior's teachings to accept, whether it be none, some, or all of them. This will determine our degree of happiness in eternity.

What God has planted in our hearts, we cannot deny. We actually know it. How then could we lack constant awareness of it? An example shows that a person may not be aware of what is happening in the moment of his conversion:

And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not. (3 Nephi 9:20)

Some have mistakenly thought they did not have a testimony, but they did. In one example, brother Heber J. Grant said he believed the Gospel but did not know it was true. In response the prophet told his counselor,

[Heber] knows it just as well as you do. The only thing that he does not know is that he does know it.” (Knowing that we Know, Elder Douglas Callister)

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we are admonished and covenant by the weekly ordinance of the sacrament to "Always remember Him".

Interestingly the Lord prefers to let people remain in ignorance or fail in their awareness, including of their identity as children of God, rather than have them knowingly and unpreparedly rebel against or fail to live up to that knowledge of their identity. This life is the time to prepare to meet God; we are not yet prepared, and must prepare quickly.

This might seem like a contradiction in terms but it is not; it is the way He works to allow people as much goodness as they are willing to receive. We have been granted a space in which to repent, after which the end comes, and all will be judged according to their works and the desires of their hearts.

For of him unto whom much is given much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation. (Doctrine and Covenants 82:3)

This is why we must actually prepare ourselves to receive truth. It is not child's play. God will require us to increase what we are given, which if we do, we shall "enter ... into the joy of [our] Lord".

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