Friday, October 9, 2009

Omar Khayyam

On the plains of hesitation bleach the bones of countless millions who, on the dawn of victory, stopped to rest and resting died.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Evaluating the Results of Decisional Evangelism versus Faith Evangelism, Conclusion

In this fifth and last installment I will endeavor to conclude the examination of the competing evangelistic approaches by highlighting the comparisons we have noted; summarizing the effect the competing approaches have had on the church; and calling for a more academic study and comparative analysis.

Decisional evangelism and faith evangelism differ more in their approach and emphasis than their content, however, decisional evangelism often attempts to evoke a response from the consumer of the Gospel message in the form of an intellectual decision affirming the truth of the Gospel.  Faith evangelism, on the other hand, is more concerned with the communication of every element of the Gospel message and leaving the response up to God often looking for more of a change in behavior or heart than a change of mind.  This is not to say that one is superior to the other, that is the basis of a different treatment.  What I have attempted to do is to highlight the different results of the approaches.

The first consequent effect is the eternal salvation of the respondent to the competing messages.  I noted, and suspect that each school of thought agrees, that salvation is by faith and faith alone.  Decisional evangelism attempts to mark that faith by memorializing it in a decision.  Faith evangelism leaves the marking of faith up to action and change in the life of the purportedly new believer.  In any case, whether one makes a decision or not is not determinative of their salvation, rather whether they have faith or not is.

The second consequent effect following from the competing sales pitches touches upon the sanctification of the purported new believer.  I now use the term purported because of lately we have seen many false converts to the Christian faith similar to how much of the world was of the Catholic faith prior to the Reformation.  It seems as though one can almost be a Christian if one is born in America.  Sanctification, however, is unique to those whom God has chosen.

I noted the competing approaches to sanctification flowing from the competing gospel messages.  Indeed, this point was recently underlined at my home church where a Godly minister preached about the possibility that one could be saved and yet never have any part of her life change, she would be simply carnal.  While those who teach faith evangelism would readily admit the possibility of a believer acting carnal for a time, they would reject whole-heartedly the concept, abhorrent to their hearts, that a believer would never realize any sanctification in their lives.  For the faith evangelist sees sanctification as a process that God is in control of, as God acting on us.  Indeed, we do agree with, cooperate with, submit ourselves to this process.  Indeed, the faith evangelist argues, we can hamper this process, frustrate this process, slow this process, but in the end we are the objects of this process not the authors.

Decisional evangelists see salvation and beginning with God and ending with our decision.  In their doctrine, we are both the object and subject.  We are the object first and foremost in that Christ died for us while we were still yet sinners.  We are the subject in that we have to “do something” as my Pastor recently preached.  The something which we must do varied upon the messenger, such as receive, accept, pray, make a decision, repent or join the church and be baptized.  This view of the sinner as cooperating with God in salvation, something theologians call synergistic salvation, permeates into their doctrine of sanctification.

Put more shortly, the decisional evangelist and those who believe they are Christians because they did something, believe they are sanctified principally because they did something.  They are first and foremost the subjects and only secondarily the objects of sanctification.  Thus, it is entirely possible for someone to be a Christian and have absolutely no fruit apparent in their lives at all, other than the claim that they once did something to become a Christian.

Even more importantly, however, the decisional evangelist treats his brothers and sisters in Christ much differently.  This is the singular more distinctive consequence of decisional evangelism as against faith evangelism.  The decisional evangelist is so convinced of their ability to effect their own hearts, and accordingly through wiley argument and persuasive messages, stories and music the hearts of others, that they will sacrifice nothing to the end that they pour all of their energy and import into the evangelism of those whom God has called them out from among.

Put more succinctly, the decisional evangelist loves the world more than he loves his brothers and sisters in Christ.

Next we looked at the consequences of decisional evangelism opposed to faith evangelism in the realm of worship and glorification of Jesus Christ and God the Father.  We noted how any attention to our part in the process of salvation detracts from and reduces in quality, kind and glory that work of God in our salvation.  We also noted that a delusion of the Gospel message, changing the Gospel message, distorting the Gospel message can never glorify God.  Consequently, no one who fails to present the truth of the Gospel as revealed in God’s Word can be said to worship God in truth and deed.  And we noted that to worship God is to give all worth to him but to give worth to a decision, indeed to make it the sine qua non of salvation is to give worth to man instead.  Decisional evangelism’s great failing is that it lifts man’s purported free will above God’s election, predestination, calling and saving work. 

Finally we examined the different approaches to the Church and to living among the brothers and sisters in Christ.  We saw the different views of carnality and so-called second blessings.  It became apparent that discipleship was sorely lacking and that in the decisional evangelism church, discipleship was reduced to the same kind of carnal means whereby the convert was drawn in.  We saw how the emphasis on obedience was markedly different among the competing messages.  And we noted how disparate the message of forgiveness is today within church buildings in America and how this might arise from our soteriology. 
I do not, for a moment, expect complete agreement with my observations.  First, they are simply that, observations.  I have not conducted any methodic surveys among the various evangelists or churches.  There has been no formal analysis of the life styles of congregations from the competing views.  Consequently, I expect there to be disagreement and my prayer is that people with different observations will make them known to me.  In the light of Solus Christus et Soli Deo gloria, this work cannot glorify God and Christ unless there be truth in it, permeating it, filling it as a sponge is filled with water to overflowing.  I have no interest in perpetrating a fraud and therefore welcome any competing observations, whether supportable or not, to the end that God’s Church is edified, God himself is glorified, Christ is put above all.

To that end, I call on my Christian brothers and sisters in academics, particularly the sociological and ecclesiological studies to come to my assistance in denying or affirming the veracity of the claims I have made herein.  I call on Pastors and Elders to note the severity of the consequences I have drawn out.  This is not merely a case of “we can agree to disagree” but a case that effects the very ability of a man to worship and glorify God, to love his brethren, and to be sanctified from sin.  This is not an issue on the periphery of our lives, but rather, the central and determinative issue which affects the quality of the so-called church in America and its efficacy, its honor and its purity.  We have allowed the Devil a strong foot-hold in our front pews in the name of reaching the lost and expect there to be little to no consequence.  I am calling on all Christians everywhere who read or hear of this to wake up.  Arise oh sleeper from your slumber.  As the Pope once reproached a Godly man, there is a fox in the vineyard, yet this time it is competing Ideologies, Theologies, Christologies, and Soteriologies that are so different from one another that we can hardly be said to have the same religion.

If, however, I am mistaken and have polluted the minds of readers with exaggerated claims and observations, then rebuke me kindly but forcefully as a brother.  For to stumble into error through faulty thinking and meditation is neither my gain nor yours.  As the writer of Hebrews calls us to exhort each other today, I echo that calling to everyone who might read this – exhort me by affirmation or by contradiction or by encouragement or by education.  But do not ignore this most important of discussions – the implications of these competing messages. 

Years ago I was challenged by one who loved me much then, to explain why it matters.  She asked me to account for my passion for how a person becomes saved.  She questioned whether it matters in the long run which doctrine is taught.  She inferred that both churches love God, both are filled with Christians, both are good people.  Is it not then, a small matter, a decisive matter unworthy of Godly men?  Are we not called to put away endless genealogies and legal technicalities?  Are we not called to be at peace with all men, so much that it depends on you?  This small work is my attempt to answer those questions.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Evaluating the Ramifications of Decisional Based Evangelism versus Faith based Evangelism Part 4

In the last section, we explored the ramifications in a believer’s life regarding the glorification and worship of our Lord Jesus Christ.  We looked at the false god of man’s free will.  We looked at the purpose of man in light of God’s word.  And we examined the inability to bring glory to both God and man at the same time.  This section will inspect the ramifications of the two competing forms of evangelism with regard to the church.  I note the use of a lower-case ‘c’ when spelling church.  This is to distinguish the local group of people calling themselves believers from that Church which Christ is calling to himself, saved for himself, prayed over, and is in the process of perfecting for his own glory.

Regarding the Church

The Church is a group of believers from all times, from all places, from all ethnic groups and without respect to age, gender, race or socio-economic standing.  A church too, is often a group of people proclaiming belief in Christ without respect to age, gender, race or socio-economic standing.  So, why do I make the distinction?

Jesus predicted, even foretold, that the world would know his disciples by how they treated each other.  Paul likened the Church to a body, with all members part of that body, different yet dependent upon one another and one although different.  The eye is not the ear but they are part of the same unity.
This body which is known to the world by its love towards one another looks very different from the local churches which are known in the best ways for the way they love the world.  Indeed, the Apostle John does teach us that to love the world is inconsistent with a love of the Father.  Yet, our churches today endeavor to do just that.  There is no excuse offered for this approach other than, we are to love our neighbor.

Faith Evangelism and the Church

A faith based Gospel emphasized the total depravity of the sinner, the identity and holiness of God, the sufficiency and perfection of the atoning work of Christ, the work of the Holy Spirit in renewing us, regenerating us, indwelling us, empowering us, and completing us in Christ.  A faith based Gospel emphasized the need, the requirement of faith in the believer, but the faith based Gospel goes further to acknowledge that this faith itself comes as a gift from Christ.

Evangelism to the faith evangelist is an act of glorifying God.  Every element of that Gospel points to the benevolence and glory of God.  Whether there is ever a response from sinners is irrelevant, for the preacher of that gospel will preach loudly and fervently in a desolate forest because it brings God glory.  He does not change the Gospel according to the consumer in mind.  He does not adjust the message to account for generation, gender, socio-economic stand, race, or station in life of the consumer.  To this evangelist, all hearts are the same, and the message of the Gospel is the message of Peace between God and sinner to everyone.

Having brought the same message to all, the faith evangelist sees all as the same in Christ.  There is a unity because all were able to bring the exact same things to the altar of God prior to salvation, that is, nothing.  The faith evangelist believes that the consumer, the sinner is equal on all footing regardless.  The same message is preached to a child rapist as is to the president of the local Rotarians.  The same heart is at stake.  And when the work of regeneration occurs, the same results are expected.

Carnality, Second Blessings, etc..

When the same is brought, the same work effected, and the same result obtained, there is an expectation of faith.  Just as James is flabbergasted that one would purport to have faith without works, the faith evangelist is assured in his heart that faith always produces the same results. 

Consider the impact of this expectation for a moment.  While we think about it let us consider the various doctrines that have cropped up to account for the apparent varieties in the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration.  We have the doctrine of persistent carnality.  We have the doctrine that allows for the loss of our salvation.  We have the doctrine of the second blessing.  We have the doctrine of the subsequent baptism of the Holy Spirit.  We have all the various doctrines which point to the abundant life and how to obtain that life.

However, the faith evangelist attributes the entire work of salvation to God.  The sinner brings absolutely nothing.  The works of the Spirit is the same.  The faith is the same because it is always a gift from the Son.  Accordingly, the faith evangelist expects every believer to start off the same, to have the same potential, to be complete in Christ and to need only one thing – further obedience to the word of God.

This is remarkable in its effect in this, that the faith evangelist encourages all and every Christian to do one thing – obey.  What is the principal command to obey?  To love each other.  They are not concerned with whether our investment portfolios are reflecting the abundant life.  They are unconcerned with our satisfaction with our marriage, or our singleness.  They are focused entirely on our obedience.

Decisional Evangelism and the Church

When one believes that one makes a decision for Christ, one necessarily believes that different people require different proofs, arguments, persuasive techniques, emotional appeals.  Because different people bring different gifts, sins, cognitive abilities, etc.. to the sale of Christ, they will require different messages and they will begin their walk with God at different points.

The decisional evangelist looks around him or her and sees such a variety of conversion effects that something is required to explain such a diversity.  They have variously introduced the doctrine of persistent carnality, the second blessing, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the loss of our salvation and the various means to obtain the abundant life.

Accordingly, after the conversion the principal message of the decisional evangelist is to bring the consumer into a alignment with what should be the effect of regeneration.  Always the decisional evangelist is working toward the regeneration of the old man.  For the decisional evangelist, every work is trying to get so-called Christians to act, feel, and look like real Christians.  However, the appeal cannot be to obedience because they were not won with a message of obedience.

Paul Washer has said “if you win them by carnal means, you will have to keep them by carnal means” which goes a long way to explaining the sermons within seeker friendly churches today.  They are about everything but obedience.  And their principal aim is not that the world would know us for our love for one another, but our love for visitors and strangers and the lost.

Implications of the Loss of Emphasis on Obedience

To obey is better than sacrifice.  In other words, let us not sing songs of praise to the Father if we are not willing to and actively working towards obedience to that Father in all areas of our lives.  Many will say ‘amen’ and ‘amen’ to this charge, but how many of us spend our lives, our time, our energy in discovering how to obey, what rules to obey, and what we should be doing to cooperate with the Spirit towards obedience?  It is simply not enough to say “let us obey” without endeavoring to discover in which ways our Father wants us to obey.

Imagine the son who portends to obey his father but never asks his father what his father would wish him to do.  Meanwhile, that father has drafted detailed instructions to his son in a letter.  The letter goes unread, unattended to, and neglected.  Would anyone reasonably suggest that the son is obeying the father?  When we so neglect the Scriptures, we are neglecting the instructions of the Father.  When we spend all of our time in four or five different parts of scripture we can hardly be said to be obeying.

Primary Obedience

The first and greatest commandment is that we love the Father with all of our hearts, soul, mind and body.  This is the beginning point for anyone regenerated by the Holy Spirit.  We are given new hearts and minds.  And we are to present our bodies as a holy sacrifice, acceptable to Christ. 

However, can we be said to love the father with all of our heart and mind if we do not know who the father is.  This is a principal failing of decisional evangelism in that they fail to introduce the Father to the consumer.  The beginning point is to create a problem.  To be sure, the decisional evangelist does begin with the creation or revelation of the problem, the raison d'être or need for a decision.  And in doing so, they might introduce the holiness of God or the character of God, but the examination today is short and trivial.  I do not doubt that in times past when people had longer attention spans, that the character of God, the thoughts of God were examined in depth.  But today, the consumer is not interested and, therefore, the character of God is passed over in favor of that which will grab the attention of the consumer, herself or himself.

Forgiveness

One of the remarkable fruits of being a child of God, that which is always present, is the forgiveness of others – particularly the brothers and sisters in Christ.  There was a time when I believed that forgiveness was as any other command, that I was to obey the command, but its absence or presence reflected nothing about my spiritual state.

Then I read the parable of the servant who is forgiven much and I became alarmed that Jesus taught that if we do not forgive others, God will not forgive us.  After struggling with this teaching I was tempted to arrive at a conclusion that the forgiveness Christ was talking about was temporal.  That is to say, that while I enjoy eternal forgiveness, that forgiveness which I experience here today is dependent upon how I forgive others.  In exploring this idea, the natural path was to make it all about me.  For example, I began to suspect that forgiveness was really an attitude about myself.  If I did not forgive myself I would not be able to forgive others.  And if I did not forgive others, I would not be able to experience the forgiveness of God.  That in the end, while I would be forgiven, I would not feel forgiven.

However, two scriptures prevented me from such a gross and erroneous conclusion.  Firstly I found in the epistle of 1 John the teaching that all have sinned, and that if we ask God will forgive us.  This forgiveness is not dependent upon our forgiving others.  There is immediately an apparent discrepancy between Jesus teaching that our Father will forgive us if we forgive others, and John teaching that our Father will forgive us if we ask.  Caution reminds me that all scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit.  Caution reminds me that Christ is not double minded, and that the apparent discrepancy is in my mind, not in scripture.

And so I returned to the parable of the servant who was forgiven much.  And I asked the question, is this a story of causation or is this a story of characterization?  In other words, does my forgiveness of others cause God to forgive me, or do I forgive others as a reflection of – a characterization of – the fact the God has forgiven me?  Which came first?  If I read the story as one of causation, that we forgive others because God forgave us, then again, I still have a problem.  The servant who is forgiven much does not forgive his fellow servant.  But he is then turned over to the jailor and is tortured and punished until he should pay back what he owed.  Was the original forgiveness rescinded?  Or is this story saying that he was never forgiven, else he would have forgiven his brother?  Or is this story saying something else?

Before I was able to throw up my hands in defeat, I remembered the Lord’s Prayer.  In this prayer, the Lord gives an example of how to approach the Father in prayer.  And perhaps the most difficult part, the part that causes me to stumble most, is that I am to ask God to forgive me, as I forgive others, to the same extent as I forgive others, in the same manner as I forgive others, in the same quality as my forgiveness of others.  This is indeed a damning prayer.  Who can pray such a prayer?  What man is there about us who forgives others as much as he desires to be forgiven?

I have not arrived at any conclusion in this manner, but there are a few things that are inescapable.  First, that I, as a child of God, should be interested in being forgiven.  Indeed, one can hardly be said to have faith in Christ that Christ will remove our sins if we are not first interested in forgiveness.  Secondly, that this forgiveness is somehow tied to the way and the manner in which we forgive others.  In which case I should point out that forgiveness is of the utmost importance in a Christian’s life.  It is the only discipline mentioned in the Lord’s Prayer other than perhaps the acknowledgement of God’s preeminent will and our call to honor God’s name above all else. 

How does this touch upon our current discussion?  I believe that the forgiveness of our brothers and sisters is an absolute requirement in Christian life.  It is not optional.  In this case, how do the two competing evangelisms compare?

Decisional Evangelism and Forgiveness

If I am taught nothing about forgiveness except that it is free to any who should ask, as it is, without more I will become convinced that forgiveness is a once and done proposition.  I have been forgiven – again, this is true.  But I am to be forgiving, continually, as an act of worship.  For, are we not bringing worth to God when we continually bring attention to the worth of God’s work in forgiveness?

However, a formulaic gospel looks only backwards and does not consider how this salvation affects the believer.  There is no challenge to question your salvation.  There is no cause to ponder, struggle with, or work out our salvation.  In failing to examine our salvation beyond asking ourselves whether we said the magic words, we fail to see the correlation between God’s forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of our brothers and sisters.  Whatever that correlation is, we miss it entirely.

Faith Evangelism and Forgiveness

The faith gospel begins with God and ends with God.  Man is an object in the process of salvation, not the author of his own salvation.  He is not the center of the story.  He is not the subject of the sentence.  God seeks, he does not.  Is it any wonder that the faith gospel lends itself to teaching about God’s forgiveness and how it is related to how we forgive others?

This is not to suggest that salvation is not of faith and faith alone.  Sola Fide.  It is to suggest that forgiveness is one of the indispensable fruits of salvation.  Jesus taught us that the world will know us by our fruit.  Jesus also taught that if we do not bear fruit that the branch would be cut away and removed.  My theology is incomplete in this area, but I believe today that Christians will always exhibit three fruits, otherwise they would not be Christians.  Firstly, they will exhibit the fruit of faith.  Faith is a gift of God.  Christ is the author of and he perfects of our faith.  Secondly, all Christians will have the fruit of repentance.  True faith leads to repentance.  This is sometimes referred to as Lordship salvation, but I believe that regardless of what it is called, repentance was preached by John the Baptist, Christ, Peter, Paul and John the Apostle.  Repentance was preached by Stephen and Jude.  Repentance was preached for thousands of years and only very recently did salvation come without repentance.

This again, is not to suggest that salvation is by repentance.  Salvation is by faith, Sola Fide.  However, a fruit of salvation which is always present is repentance.  We see repentance in the thief on the cross.  We see repentance in Saul on the road to Damascus.  We see repentance in every conversion story in the Bible.
The third fruit that I believe every Christian has is forgiveness of others.  We are not forgiven because we forgive others, otherwise grace is not needed.  We are not forgiven because of anything we do – even asking – but when we are forgiven, we do forgive others and we do seek out and desire forgiveness from God.  When we are forgiven, when we are transformed, when we are brought to life, we will forgive others and we will seek forgiveness from God.

Faith Evangelism does not necessarily teach the forgiveness of each other, nor does it follow that decisional evangelism omits the teaching.  It is apparent that faith evangelism lends itself more easily to teaching.  I suspect that when one begins and ends the salvation message with God, that forgiveness of others is more likely to be touched upon.  I do believe that churches that participate in faith evangelism put more emphasis on the fruits of salvation and therefore teach about forgiveness and its requirement in Christians.  Again, forgiveness of others is not optional.  Forgiveness is not a feeling.  Forgiveness is not easy.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Evaluating the Ramifications of Decisional Based Evangelism versus Faith Based Evangelism Part 3

The last post in this series explored the eternal effects of the two principal competing evangelical methodologies, that is decisional evangelism and faith evangelism, to our present sanctification.  I will not spend time here explaining what I mean by the two, competing forms that is addressed in the Introduction in Part 1.  We have now discovered, assuming my logic and observations are sound, that there is much more at stake than the simple disagreement between styles.  We have learned that the selling of the Gospel as though it were a good to be purchased by wary buyers not only affects the message, but affects our sanctification in that we are drawn to other purposes other than our principal purpose of loving one another and that frustrates and grieves the Holy Spirit who is working our sanctification within us.

In this Part 3, I will examine the eternal effects of the two methods with regard to our worship and glorification of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Eternal Effects of the Two Methodologies Regarding Worship and Glorification of our Lord Jesus Christ


The Westminster Shorter Catechism begins with the question “What is the chief end of man?”  For millennium men have asked the question “Why?”  Why am I here?  Why was I made?  Why am I different from all other creation?  I have enjoyed for some time the curious way the Westminster Shorter Catechism puts this collection of why questions into one question.  Asking what the chief end of man is acknowledges that there is more than one purpose for man in the heart of God.  The catechism also acknowledges that there is purpose.  The answer is inferred before the question is even through being asked by the word choice of ‘chief end’.  The question does not allow a randomness, it rebukes evolution before the idea was formalized by men who rejected God.

Our examination today centers on the answer to this question and how our answer is in part affected by whether we believe we came to Christ by decision or by faith.  For those of us who are struggling to remember our Sunday School answer to the first question I will repeat it now.  “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.”  Before my more modern friends remind me that the catechisms are not scripture, nor is there a universal consensus to their accuracy, I will readily acknowledge same.  My copy includes two Scriptures in support of this answer, and there are others.  But I admit that there are those who would repudiate this statement as too simple and lacking the real substance of the purpose of the church today.

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73: 25-26 ESV
Rather than argue the merits of this particular catechism, today I would like to keep it simple and admit that there are different purposes to man.  I will also admit that there are different scriptures used to support these different purposes and that there are those who believe one superior to another.  For example, there is that group of believers who focus on the so-called great commission given by our Lord just prior to his ascension into heaven to go into all the world preaching the Gospel and making disciples.  See Matthew 28:16 et seq.; Mark 16:14 et seq.

However, whether I live in such a way that my chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever or whether I live in such a way as to make converts is quite a different matter.  As we have noted decisional evangelism is marked with salesmanship.  It focuses on the consumer; upon their tastes, their preferences, their notions of God, their notions of right and wrong and what is fair, their needs and desires.  In order to sell them onto the idea that Jesus is the answer to all their problems, the decisional evangelists acknowledges, at least tacitly that their problems are the most important ones.

Contrast that with the answer to the first catechism.  The most focus is turned to God.  Our purpose is not to solve our problems, but rather to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.  A faith evangelistic message introduces God first, his glory, his righteousness, his purity, his holiness and his anger with sin.  The decisional evangelistic message introduces or reminds man of his problems and how God wants to take care of those problems for him.  In one essence, the decisional evangelist may unwittingly introduce God as a servant to the consumer, as a genie in a bottle waiting to be called forth by a magic incantation or magic prayer, to do the bidding of the master – a man.  I am reminded of Pastor Ronnie Stevens’ admonition and challenge to ask ourselves “Do I pray as a sovereign to a servant, or as a servant to a sovereign?”  And to my dismay I admit that while I was a decisional evangelist, my prayers at least sounded like a grocery list, like a sovereign giving instructions to a servant and remembering to seal it with the magic words “in Jesus name, Amen” such that God would have to do it.  Today I repent of the hardness of that heart and am brought to sorrow that I so egregiously violated the third commandment in almost every such prayer, for I now believe to invoke the name of our Lord in such a way as to make it common, without thought, and meant only as a sort of notary seal to guarantee that the prayer is heard and answered by God is to take that name in vain and use it for vanity upon vanity.

Now, whether one is a decisional evangelist or faith evangelist, if he or she is a believer, they will admit that at least one of our purposes is to glorify God.  They might even suggest that the principal means whereby we glorify God is to obey God.  Indeed, to obey is better than sacrifice.  And both evangelist will admit that obedience includes the necessary and appropriate attention to the great commission.  I commend my decisional evangelist brethren for their passion to obey God in this matter.  I advise anyone who is not passionate about our Lord’s instructions to take the Gospel into all the world to rethink how they became a Christian.  Romans 10:19 teaches us that no one becomes a Christian without the Word of God.  How does the Word of God come to us but by the efforts of an evangelist.  Truly blessed are the feed of those who bring us such good news.

However, in attempting obedience to this command, we must remember that simply bringing some form of good news is not necessary bringing the Good news, and whenever we corrupt the Gospel we twist and distort the work of God.  How can such good news be glorifying to God?

An example.  Man is occasionally tempted to define love apart from God.  We create an abstract in our minds of what love ought to be.  We say in our hearts “love is insuring that everyone gets what he or she wants as long as it does not hurt anyone else.”  Or perhaps we will use other language, but the point is, we determine what love means.  Then we ask the question “How can a loving God send people to hell?”  Because our definition of love does not allow eternal everlasting torment, we become confused because Scripture declares that God is love.  See 1 John 4:7-8.  To resolve this conflict we have really only three possible alternatives.

The first is to reject God and/or scripture.  We either have to say that if there were a God, he would be loving, and since Scripture says that he condemns people to everlasting torment, the God of Scripture is not real.  Or we say that there is a God, he sends people to hell, and I want nothing to do with that God.
The second alternative is to reject what scripture says about hell.  This is becoming fashionable today, but it has puzzled the minds of decisional evangelists for decades.  C.S. Lewis’ book The Great Divorce rejects the ideas of hell as taught by Scripture in order to make God more loving.  In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis makes hell a choice as well, and every one in hell chooses to be there.  This excuses God from sending people to hell and keeps him loving.  Today, people are just as quick to either deny the existence of hell as a place of everlasting torment where there is gnashing of teeth, grinding of tongue and where the worm does not die; or to suggest that those descriptions of hell are only analogies, word pictures meant to illustrate how important it is to find God; or lastly to deny hell altogether adopting a form of annihilationism.

The third alternative is to get on our knees and to repent of creating false gods.  What do I mean by this rather strongly worded sentiment?  A false god is not always made of wood or stone or jewels.  Today’s false gods are made of words or ideas and theories.  We create an abstract in our minds and announce it as truth.  We say “this is what love is …” and then pronounce that abstract idea as an eternal truth separate from creation and man.  When instead, we ought to say “This is what God is, as revealed to us through creation and through his revelatory Word.”  When Scripture says that God is love, what we ought to learn is that we do not define God by looking to a man-made abstract we call love.  Instead, we define love by looking to what God is through creation and through his revelatory Word.

As R.C. Sproul is fond of asking, the question is not so much “How can a loving God send people to hell?” but rather “How can a holy and just and righteous and pure God allow people into heaven?”  While I submit that the question reveals a heart that needs to repent of making false gods, it is important to also note, as Dr. Sproul does, that the question also entirely misses the point.  The first question “how can a loving God send people to hell?” assumes that man does not deserve hell.  It assumes that man’s rightful place is somewhere else.  It denies the total and complete depravity of man’s heart, his will, his being and his actions.  It makes man out to be the determiner of his own fate.  In the end, it sets down man as the object of worth and glorification and requires of God a just explanation for not having treated man as he is due.

The arrogance of the question alone reveals a heart at enmity with God, however, we see also a real failure to see the character of God.  Which of us, in seeing the true glory of God, would be moved to suggest that God do something differently?  But that is exactly what we are doing when we question the existence, creation and appropriateness of hell.  We are coming into the throne room of God, and demanding that he trade places with us, while we are the judge and he is on trial.

Can you now see and understand how difficult it is to glorify God, much less enjoy him forever if we are constantly questioning how he does things?  In this highest of minds, we have again stormed the throne room of God requires explanations and ignoring the rebuke of God to Job:
Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?  Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.  Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?  On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? Job 38:4-7 ESV
Were we to truly understand how we offend God’s glory with our impudence we would shudder in our shoes.  That is not to suggest that there are not genuinely sincere and puzzled Christians, who in all humility approach the throne of God trembling and inquire as to how love can be consistent with hell.  But these gentle babes in the Lord have yet to discover who God is.  And instead of being taught who God is, his fashion, his worth, his mind, his thoughts, his likes and dislikes, his favor and disfavor, his worth, his glory and his character – they are instead deceived daily and weekly by sermons about how to make more money, or how to enjoy sex more, or how to have more success in life.  They are instead deceived by wolves in sheep’s clothing who are pouncing on their hearts and distracting them from their true purpose – to glorify God and instead getting them to at best inadvertently glorify man.

I know these gentle babes – they are confused by God and frustrated that they are not receiving the blessings that they feel entitled to.  Indeed, there is a very real entitlement attitude.  After all, they prayed the prayer of Jabez, they asked in faith and with good motives, they claimed the promise of life and that more abundantly.  They have a right to the good life.  All the while they have never been taught that eternal life, that abundant life, has little to nothing to do with wealth, health, happiness or success.  True life is the knowledge of Jesus Christ and the Father who sent him.  See John 17:3.

In the end, the prevalence of decisional evangelism leads to men holding God accountable for his lack of blessing or healing, for his questionable use of hell, or at least his reckless use of language that confuses us about hell’s real nature.  But if this were the only condemnation of the results of decisional evangelism, we could excuse it and rehabilitate those dear and gentle babes who have been so misled.  But instead there is a much graver iniquity to lay at the feet of decisional evangelism and its unique ability to keep us from glorifying God and being able to worship God as God.

For decisional evangelism puts man’s will above God’s will.  Here is how it works.  God’s will, according to these teachers, is that all men be saved.  Again, this discussion and examination will not go into the specific arguments against or for faith evangelism versus decisional evangelism.  We are, today only, looking at the ramifications; the necessary consequences.  In the end, the decisional evangelist sees God’s will as subservient to man’s will.  In the end, they will assert, the only thing keeping you out of heaven or out of hell is your will.  In the end, you decide where you will spend eternity.  In the end, the most powerful force in the universe – that which itself and only itself can now affect your eternal place of abode – is your will.

We call this freedom of the will, and we set it up on an altar and worship it as the only omnipotent cause and power.  God would will that you be in heaven, but he cannot quite do it on his own, he needs the assistance of your will.  Now, to be fair, some will suggest that God has done almost all the work.  That our contribution is so small that it can hardly be called a work.  In essence, he has done 99.99999999999999999999 ad infinitum of the work.  But as any first year math student can tell you, 99.99999999 ad infinitum is not equal to 100.  No matter how small our contribution is, it still remains the sine qua non of our own salvation – that without which we cannot be saved.

And this leads us to the glorification and worship of ourselves.  We have seeker friendly churches.  The Bible teaches that no man seeks after God.  The Bible teaches that God seeks after man, that he seeks and finds that which is lost.  But when we talk of seeker friendly churches we have turned the tables, and are talking about churches that are friendly to people, not necessarily to God.  We are talking about churches who think, believe and see men as seeking for God – even though Scripture is very clear that man does not seek after God.  See Romans 3:11.  But we know in our hearts that it is our will that is important, so we schedule church so as to accommodate the will of unrepentant unbelievers.  We design our worship so that it will not be offensive to unbelievers or their will, rather than designing our worship so as to glorify God in heaven.  We exchange our best clothing in favor of more comfortable clothes, so that we can be more authentic and so that unbeliever’s wills will not be adversely put off.  We design our teachings around an unbeliever’s will.  We bow down to the unbeliever, and their will daily in our seeker-friendly churches, and we don’t even know that we have substituted the God of the universe for a dirty towel.

How can someone who has laid down with the harlot of will worship pick up his cross and worship God?  Can he divide his worship between himself and God?  Can he give worth to God and man at the same time?
Worship is giving worth to someone or something.  When we bring our worship to God, but instead spend all our time with announcements, man-centered songs, man-centered teachings, man-centered theology, and man-centered evangelism – how are we giving worth to God?  We even reject his words, excusing them as allegories, mere word pictures, appropriate for that time and that age, but not meant for us today.

The most damning ramification of decisional evangelism is that is diverts worship and glorification of God to worship and glorification of man’s will and worth.  We conclude, inaccurately and sinfully, that man is worth more than hell, and that his will alone will guarantee our eternal salvation.  Is it any wonder that so many babes in Christ are so unhappy in their Christian walk, so adverse to bible study because they find it confusing and hard, so willing to read books written by man about man (e.g. Become a Better You or Your Best Life) instead of a book written by God about God?

Faith evangelism announces God, his character, his worth, his words.  Faith evangelism denounces man’s worth (aside of that worth God ascribes to him), denounces his ability giving credit even for our faith to Christ.  Faith evangelism looks to God’s will instead of man’s will.  And faith evangelism seeks to glorify God in our churches and in our hearts. 

The next section will examine the ramifications of decisional evangelism versus faith evangelism in the Church and in churches.


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The 9th Commandment

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.  So says God.  Exodus 20:16
The more I think and ponder about this commandment, the more impressive and insurmountable it becomes.  Granted, I lived for more than twenty years in almost complete violation of this one, so my perspective is perhaps different than most.  But the years living in falsehood have taught me things about God’s nature and will that I’d like to discuss now.

What this commandment proscribes might be argued.  At one time I practiced law and upon reading it I am immediately brought into the courtroom cross-examining a witness who is accusing or defending a matter.  As I question the witness and know that they are lying my eyes wander to my client and their frustration is palpable.  I will never forget the feeling of helplessness when confronting a witness who is lying, but against whom I have nothing with which to contradict them.

But that is such a narrow reading of the commandment.  To bear false witness is to carry an untruth.  I doubt that God intended this commandment to be limited to courtroom scenarios.  In following Jesus’ example of seeing the heart of a command (See Matthew 5:20-21) it is best to look at what is being prescribed in the heart.

A false witness, is a false report.  This can be done verbally or non-verbally.  I might deceive someone with a look suggesting affirmation when in fact I either know the matter to be false or have insufficient evidence to support the assertion.  The report may be patent or oblique.  That is, I may intentionally put forth a report so as to mislead or deceive or I may simply fail to correct someone who is mislead or deceived.  In either case, the intent of my heart is to have the other person – my neighbor – be misled, to persist under and/or act from bad information.  My heart’s intent is to manipulate the actions or state of my neighbor with information that is not true.

James warns us that if we know to do good, but fail to do it, to us it is sin.  Accordingly, I find an affirmative duty within every believer to insure that his fellow believer is not deceived.  And this is where it gets difficult.  How many of us have allowed someone to persist in a misunderstanding of the facts so as to protect their heart?  How many of us have stood by and not said anything because it is not our business?  How many of us have allowed our brother or sister in Christ to be deceived because they would be angry with us, or might sin, if they knew the truth?

One last thing about the 9th commandment.  I observe throughout Scripture and throughout creation that there is only one creator.  One one speaks things into existence.  Whenever God speaks – if it is not already true, it will be because He is God.  Witchcraft undertakes to replace that creative power within God with power within man.  By magic incantations men may (according to their beliefs) speak into existence something that was not before.  This is a direct usurpation of the power and authority of God.  It is an attempt to be God.  In this way, witchcraft is one of the most serious blasphemies because it makes us to be God.

And while we might not intentionally partake in the sin of witchcraft, whenever we lie or deceive, that is practically what we are doing.  We are creating a new truth in the heart and mind of the one being deceived.  We are elevating ourselves above God and saying ‘the truth that God has allowed or dictated through Providence or otherwise is not sufficient – I will create a better truth and pass it along.’  Our intent might be bad in that we are trying to protect ourselves from the natural consequences which would otherwise flow from our own sin; or the intent might be seemingly good in that we are trying to protect another from a perceived harm from knowing the truth God has allowed or dictated.  In any case, we are usurping the authority and Providence of God.  We are storming the throne room of God, throwing him to the ground, and violently attempting to kill him to set ourselves upon the throne and assume his creative prerogative.

A lie is so much more than a simple deception.  When we examine the heart behind a lie we can see the true depravity and sinfulness therein.  I have learned the hard way that truth is your best friend.  Truth teaches me by providing the necessary discipline to correct my sinful ways.  Truth protects me by upholding my character when it is impeached.  Truth is always faithful in ministering to my heart.  When I replace Truth for a fiction of my own – my own attempt to be God and impose my providence on His creation – I am depriving myself of my own faithful friend and tutor – Truth.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  John 14:6 ESV

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Evaluating the Results of Decisional Evangelism versus Faith Evangelism, Truth or Consequences

The Eternal Effects of the Two Competing Methodologies on our Salvation

It is important to note, at this point, that many are saved at decisional evangelism events.  They are not saved by this gospel, but in spite of it.  While they believe they have been saved by a decision - an act on their part, a work to be credited to their account, they are in fact saved by faith and faith alone.  The eternal consequences are the responsibility of God.

This should be re-emphasized.  No one will be in hell for eternity because we did or did not evangelize.  No one will be in hell because we did not evangelize effectively or correctly.  Conversely, no one will be in heaven because of anything directly attributable to anyone other than God.  Regardless of what popular Christian songs may proclaim, no one in heaven receives any glory from man except God himself.  We will not thank anyone for their contribution to our salvation, for to do so robs our Lord or some small, even immeasurable quantity of glory and to  do so is unthinkable.  If Christ does 99.99999999999999999 percent of the work and an evangelist does the other 0.00000000000000001 percent it is still the case that without that evangelist's contribution that person would not be in heaven.  It would be right to say that the evangelist contributed the sine qua non of salvation for that person.  In essence, their savior would be an evangelist.  We all know this not to be the case.  And we all know that the eternal implications of the evangelism used does not include where one will spend eternity.

What of the Consequences Pertaining to Sanctification?

My last post principally introduced the two primary competing forms of evangelism in use today among Evangelical Christian churches.  In review, decisional evangelism is focused on obtaining a decision from the lost while faith evangelism is focused on proclaiming the Gospel with less regard for how it is received and more attention to glorifying God.  Any simplification will necessarily be too broad and there are those who are decisional evangelists who are greatly concerned about glorifying God and believe that changing the presentation of the Gospel to accommodate modern culture and maximize reception by lost sinners is glorifying God.  There are also those faith evangelists who lack the sensitivity to culture pushing a fire and brimstone message inadequately adjusted or accommodated to the culture in which they live. 

The brush strokes are broad because any examination of the long term results can only be possible when one considers the two from a big picture perspective.  I ask the reader to forgive my 30,000 foot view and appreciate that I know there are exceptions to the generalizations I have made.  Having made the necessary caveats and disclaimers I will proceed to the eternal consequences of the two Gospel methods to sanctification, worship, glorification and health of the Church.

The process of sanctification is central to the Christian life being the very will of God for every believer.  See 1 Thessalonians 4:3a.  The word sanctification is an English translation of the Greek word αγιασμος (hagiasmos) which itself is derived from the Greek root hagios (άγιος) which means holy or sacred.  Thus, to sanctify something is to make it holy or sacred – set apart for a particular purpose; to purify it; or to remove sin from it.  Compare 1 Corinthians 1:30; NIV renders the Greek hagiasmos as holiness while other translations choose sanctification. 

In the case of sanctification we are the object not the subject.  Since we are with sin, we cannot, of ourselves, be the instrument of causing the sanctification anymore than a dirty dish can clean itself.  While we are necessary participants in the process and can affect the process as a child can affect the disciplining of his parent; ultimately the credit is given to the one responsible for our disciplining and sanctification.  Indeed, a child cannot affect his own discipline and training up because he lacks several instrumental requirements.  First, he lacks the information and knowledge of what it is he is to be.  He lacks the purpose which gives direction to any discipline and training.  For example, he does not know what a lie is, so he cannot train himself to not lie.  Secondly, he lacks the wisdom to ordain and prescribe effective discipline and training.  Anyone who has enlisted the assistance of a child in their discipline will readily see that imagination is not lacking but wisdom is scarce.  Thirdly, he lacks the will to effect any good plan he might come up with on his own.

The analogy of a child’s discipline and training is appropriate.  We can no more effect our own purification than a child can.  And importantly, that purification and sanctification is not punishment.  The penalty for sins is not at issue.  Rather, what is in mind is the training up of the child to purity and purpose because the child is loved.  Just as a parent instructs, disciplines and sanctifies his children, our Father in heaven is doing the same with us.  See Proverbs 3:13, Hebrews 12:3-6. 

How is it that God accomplished our purification and sanctification?  The sanctification of the saints is accomplished by Christ through the working of the Holy Spirit. See 1 Peter 1:2, Philippians 1:6; Hebrews 12:1-2.  Additionally, the work of the Holy Spirit is done within the body of Christ, not in vacuo.  Particularly, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are given for this purpose, the building up, edification and sanctification of those believers within the body of Christ.  See Isaiah 11:2-3; 1 Corinthians 12, and 14.
However, the Christian can frustrate that sanctification process through adversity with the Holy Spirit.  Remarkably, the Christian can work against the Holy Spirit. See Ephesians 4:29-32.  How does a Christian frustrate or grieve or otherwise quench the Holy Spirit?  Consider our text Ephesians 4:29-32.  In this personal letter from the Apostle Paul to the church at Ephesus we see an admonition against grieving the Holy Spirit and Paul explains his meaning:
Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. Ephesians 4:29-32 NASV
Paul suggests that how we treat other Christians directly affects how we relate with the Holy Spirit.  To treat another Christian unkind is to treat the Holy Spirit unkindly.  But to forgive our brother or sister is to minister by, and through and to the Holy Spirit.  Just as God in Christ has forgiven us, we ought to forgive our fellow believers.  This matter of how we treat other believers is so important that it can affect not only our fellowship with God the Father, his Son and the Holy Spirit, but it is a direct proof of our position in Christ.
John the Elder and Apostle writes in his first general letter:
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. 1 John 5:1
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 1 John 3:16
Our sanctification/purification is dependant to some degree upon our cooperation with the Holy Spirit.  That cooperation can be markedly affected by our relationship with other believers and how we treat them.
Do believers practicing the art of decisional evangelism treat other believers different than those believers practicing the art of faith evangelism?

To love someone is to have great affection, fondness and motivation with us to do good works for that person to the end that the person will be edified, honored, build-up and encouraged.  A man may love his wife, his children, his parents, his best friends and his countrymen.  But the love with which he loves each is different in character, degree, quality and severity.  A Godly man will love his children, but his wife is first and foremost and his children will suffer for his love for his wife.  Likewise, he may be said to love his countrymen, but he’ll just as soon throw them under the bus as see his own kin in danger. 

Likewise, a Christian loves his brothers.  See John 13:34-35.  Indeed, a Christian’s love for his brothers and sisters in Christ is such that his love for the world is relatively looked upon as disgust, hatred and denial.  See 1 John 2:15 “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”  And lest someone complain that this verse applies to the things of the world and not the people of the world, there are two objections he must overcome.  First, why does the writer qualify “the world” with the phrase “or the things of the world?”  If the writer only had in mind the things of the world and not the people of the world, then he should have written “Do not love the things of the world.”  Secondly, the objection has to overcome the very acts of Christ himself.  See John 17:6-9
"I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours."
Again, this is not to suggest at this time that it is wrong to have concern for the lost.  Where would our evangelism efforts be if we cared little for those lost sheep not yet brought into the fold of Christ?  The point is that love is different, and the love for our brothers and sisters should be of such quality that all men will recognize us as Christ’s followers because of that love – not our love for strangers.

Now I return to the question: Do believers practicing the art of decisional evangelism treat other believers different than those believers practicing the art of faith evangelism?  The answer is unequivocally yes.
For those evangelists interested in obtaining a decision for Christ, in securing a prayer of invitation to Christ, the object, the ultimate end is that the person become saved.  And by saved, what is in mind is the conversion of that person secured by their own will.  Once that object has been obtained, the evangelist moves on.  There is little talk of discipleship.  There is less talk of fellowship.  There is almost no love.
Those are strong accusations and one which I would grieve the Spirit myself if I could not support.  Consider the following points:
  1. The divorce rate in the church is not markedly different than the divorce rate among unbelievers
  2. The suicide rate in the church is not markedly different than the suicide rate among unbelievers
  3. The homicide rate in the church is not markedly different than the homicide rate among unbelievers
  4. The domestic violence rate in the church is not markedly different than the domestic violence rate among unbelievers
  5. The addiction to drugs, alcohol, pornography and sec are not markedly different than the addiction rates among unbelievers
When I stretch my arms and gaze upon those accusations I am impressed with one of two conclusions.  Either my Gospel is impotent bringing no noticeable change in a believer’s life; or that Christians are so busy selling the Gospel and trying to make churches bigger that they’ve stopped ministering altogether to the needs of their brothers and sisters.

I know in my own life that the former conclusion is wrong.  And I have seen firsthand the wondrous working of the Holy Spirit in the body and the healing that is brought into the lives of believers as a result of the love of one Christian to another.  For there are many true believers in the churches of America who are loving the brothers and sisters in Christ. 

But while I have seen the working of God in the love of the brethren, even so the enemy has obtained a short victory, not in preventing Christians from loving each other but in distracting them and draining their energy such that they have no time or life or love left to give to believers.  To illustrate consider the following problem:

While walking through the desert you are confronted with two people who are dying of thirst and absent immediate hydration they will die within the hour.  You have enough water on you to save one.  If you attempt to save both, they will both die.  You are far enough removed from any town or other people that you do not have enough time to get help.  One of the thirsty people is an unbeliever.  The other is a believer.  They are both unconscious.  To which do you provide the necessary drink of water?

The problem is meant to illustrate the necessity of choosing between unbelievers and believers.  When sharing this problem with people occasionally I’ll receive the objection that it isn't realistic.  That we never have to make that decision, so it is senseless to think about it.  In answer to that objection I note that we face this problem every day.  Each of us only has 24 hours in a day.  The waking time that we have is limited – it is our life.  It is the most expensive thing we have, for we can only spend it once and once it has been expended it can never be recovered.  Each person has an amount ordained by God and none of us can be sure of how much of it is left.  To the person who will die tomorrow in an automobile accident, if they knew no how much time they had left, most would not trade that time for a new car.. it is precious to them, they need it to accomplish the last things in life, to say goodbye, to fellowship with those people they love the most.  And like Christ going to the cross, they will not likely be distracted by unbelievers but will be pouring the remaining moments of their life into those people they love most.

But we are ignorant, most of us, of how much time we have left.  And so we spend that time every day.  We spend it either on ourselves, or others.  And if we spend it on others then we either spend it on believers, unbelievers or some mix of the two.  My observation is that most churches in America who are decisional evangelism churches spend their time, their money, their energy and their lives on unbelievers.  Most churches in America who are faith evangelism churches spend their time, their money, their energy and their lives on believers.

And how does this affect our sanctification?  Simply because it grieves the Holy Spirit.  And in so grieving the Holy Spirit we frustrate and retard the process of sanctification and purification.  It is no wonder that the most successful ministries in the world today are so often plagued with sins we would not want to explain to our five year old child.  It is no wonder that the church buildings in the world today are filled with believers who are walking slowly toward Christ, distracted by the multitudinous seeker friendly efforts to win everyone into the body and neglecting their own sanctification.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Evaluating the Results of Decisional Evangelism versus Faith Evangelism, Introduction

Introduction

Herein I have laid forth my observations of the natural and consequent ramifications flowing from the two primary forms of evangelism used to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ since the mid nineteenth century.  This examination is not meant to discuss the propriety or accuracy of either model.  That is another discussion and analysis altogether.  Rather, I want to answer the question of skeptics and critics abroad: "Why does it matter?  As long as Christ is preached.."  In doing so, I humbly submit my thinking to the Word of God and gladly affirm any brother or sister in their efforts to preach the Gospel.  And yet, I want to encourage these same brothers and sisters to see the Gospel, to live the Gospel and to understand the Gospel before they endeavor to reach others with that Gospel.  I am convinced that the primary problem with churches in the United States is that they are filled with unbelievers who are convinced they are Christians.  For this purpose, I want to draw attention to, invite discourse concerning and meditate carefully on those responses that are Biblically based.  In this spirit I anticipate with hope that someone will respond with like care and attention to give an answer, a response as to whether and how my analysis is incomplete, un-informed, partial or biased, inadequate or simply without Scriptural support.

Decisional Evangelism vs. Faith Evangelism: a Primer

Before I can begin to put forth a rational discussion of the observed or predicted consequences and ramifications of the two evangelism models there is of course the requirement that both models be understood commonly.  The first model that I will undertake to describe is so-called Decisional Evangelism.  This is the model I grew up with in the heartland of America - the Bible Belt.

Decisional Evangelism

By Decisional Evangelism, I mean that form of presenting the Gospel that focuses on obtaining a decision from the audience or one hearing the presentation.  I think back and remember those sermons which at the conclusion asked that all eyes be closed, all heads be bowed and that those who are ready to make a decision for Christ raise their hands.  The evangelist would then be heard saying "Yes, I see that hand.  Yes,  I see that hand as well.  And that hand, Praise God."  At which point those who raised their hands might be asked to publicly affirm their decision by going forward; or perhaps they would be met for conversion counseling. 

This form of evangelism is used widely in America today and draws its roots from the likes of Charles Finney, D.L. Moody, Billy Sunday, Billy Graham, Bill Bright, and their modern prodigy.  I was first exposed to this form of evangelism as a child attending vacation bible school.  Later I would see it used by the Nazarene denomination, by the Southern Baptists, by Campus Crusade, on the television during Billy Graham's Crusades, and in Young Life type youth evangelism organizations.

What distinguishes this form of evangelism from that used by other evangelists is the person-centric approach.  Usually, but not always, the sales pitch begins with creating a need in the mental perception of the customer.  Perhaps the customer is told that God loves them and offers a wonderful plan for their life but that they are a sinner and are separated from that God and his plan by sin.  Neither of these two assertions are necessarily incorrect.  But from the beginning, the focus is on the customer.  The focus is on what God can do for the customer.

The solution to the problem is given quickly.  This is key.  The customer is not allowed to discover the depth of the problem or dwell on the severity of the problem.  Instead the customer is brought back to his or her own self with the proposition or question: "Do you know for certain if you were to die today where you would spend eternity?"  Today's modern presentations go further to emphasis the customer by changing the question to "Do you want to go to heaven when you die?"  Again, the focus is on the customer.  The evangelist has created a need by assuring a benefit to the customer (God's wonderful plan for your life) tied to a present inability to realize that benefit (sin is in the way).  To close the deal, the evangelists puts forth the question meant to draw from the customer an emotional commitment to the process: "Do you want to get rid of the sin so you can get busy realizing the benefit of God's wonderful plan?"

Almost always the customer is going to either respond affirmatively or wait to see what the cost is.  A good salesperson is not going to let the customer get away with being distracted by the cost.  Quickly the evangelist will point out that all the customer has to do is:
  1. Make a decision for Christ
  2. Invite Jesus into their heart
  3. Pray to accept Jesus into their heart; or
  4. Pray, believing that Jesus will come into their hearts, accepting Jesus' sacrifice for their sin
Herein is the decision part of Decisional Evangelism.  This is the most important part of the hard close, the tie down.  Obtaining this commitment is sometimes secured by assuring the customer that it will only take five minutes of their time.  Perhaps the customer is assured that the salesperson can even provide the words for such a prayer.  But always the salesperson is looking to tie down the sale, to secure the commitment. 

After the sale, almost as if to protect the sales process from buyer remorse, the customer is asked to memorialize the commitment perhaps by writing a notation in the back of their bible, or by joining a local church or by being baptized.  In most cases these memorializations are meant to hedge against future uncertainties by providing a moment in time that they can look back and examine their decision, knowing that if they were sincere in their decision, then the sale is good.  In effect, if the customer ever questions the value of God's wonderful plan for their life, or whether indeed they have secured a place in heaven, they are asked to refer back to that prior decision, perhaps asking if they were really sincere.  And if the challenge is met with an affirmative answer then the customer is assured that the sale is good, and God has to honor it.

Faith Evangelism

Prior to the mid nineteenth century the principal method of evangelism was structured in a way that I will refer to as faith evangelism.  I do not mean to suggest that there was no element or talk of faith in decisional evangelism.  Nor do I mean to suggest that there are no sales elements in the presentation of the Gospel in faith evangelism.  What I do mean to suggest is that the end object in the sales person, the evangelist, is securing faith in the customer.

Before I can speak to the process of faith evangelism, I should distinguish what I mean by securing faith versus securing a decision.  One might challenge me that one has to decide to have faith.  Scripture may be used to support this proposition in the form of Joshua's admonition to the Israelites "as for me and my house..." or Paul's admonition in his epistle to the Romans to "confess with your mouth."  But again, the purpose of this inquiry is not to determine the rightness or wrongness of the two competing forms of evangelism, but to investigate the results of the two.

In light of this purpose, I hope it is sufficient to note that not everyone believes the customer chooses to believe.  Some in fact believe that faith is freely given to the chosen and elect of God.  Some believe that faith is something that rises in the heart and soul of the one who is responding to the Gospel message by the conviction of the Holy Spirit and through the author of our faith, Jesus Christ himself.

These evangelists approach the potential convert differently.  Instead of trying to obtain a decision, they are instead interested in assuring themselves that they have accurately presented the Gospel of God in a manner that brings glory to God.  The response or reaction of the audience is of no concern to them.  They might preach the Gospel to one person sitting in a lone chapel during a snowstorm  or they might preach the Gospel from a prior written sermon read in monotone so as not to distract from the glory of God.  They might preach the Gospel to thousands or they might preach the Gospel to an empty forest.  For to these evangelists, the power is in the Gospel itself and there is glory in repeating and preaching it regardless of who hears it or what their response is.

Because there is no desire to obtain a decision, modern sales techniques and their concomitant psychological devises can be dispensed with.  There is no need to be 'relevant' or entertaining or 'engaging.'  Instead of starting with the attempt to create a need in the mind of the audience, the faith evangelist begins with introducing the God of Jacob and Isaac and Abraham to an audience that knows almost nothing about who God is.  The faith evangelist knows that no faith can exist in the heart of the customer until they begin to understand who God is.

Personal testimonies that share what God has done for that person, whether it be delivering them from a drug addiction, or curing them of cancer, or giving them purpose in life.. these stories are not only unnecessary, but they distract from the primary goal - that is, the discovery of who God is.  The faith evangelist is not as much interested in what God can do for his audience as he is whether his audience even knows who God is.
Much can be said on this account and it is beyond the scope of this examination to develop how inaccurately we see God today in our culture.  Suffice it to say that the beginning of faith evangelism is the introduction of the person, the character, the holiness, the righteousness, the power and the love of God.  Saying that "God loves you and offers you a wonderful plan for your life" is not only insufficient, but it borders on irreverence and lacks the honor and humility that any who portent to approach the throne of God should have in their hearts.  While not necessarily untrue, the statement is so simplified as to reduce God to a cosmic Santa Claus or genie in a bottle.

After the introduction of God, usually the faith evangelist will move to the particular sin of the audience.  Sin is not introduced exclusively in a general and universal sense.  Instead, as Peter addressed the crowds at Pentecost and as Paul addressed Festus, as Jesus addressed the pharisees and as John the Baptist addressed Herod, sin is brought to the forefront in a personal way.  Yes, the faith evangelist believes and preaches that all men sin, that we are all dead in our trespasses before our transformation and adoption.  But the faith evangelist does not shy from being particular in the denouncement of sin in the lives of the customer.
Herein is the single largest distinction between decisional evangelism and faith evangelism.  For the decisional evangelist is reading this with horror in his heart thinking that any such particular singling out of a customer will be an immediate turn off.  The deal will be sunk before the price can even be discussed.  It is tantamount to intentional sabotage.  Nothing is more abhorrent to the decisional evangelist than the discussion or examination of particular sin in the customer's heart.

However, we remember that the faith evangelist is not interested in a decision.  He recognizes that most will reject the Gospel.  He recognizes that most will not find this Gospel attractive.  But the Gospel is not the Gospel until such time as the horrible infamous egregious and inexcusable sin of the audience is brought to life.  The Holy Spirit convicts man in his heart through the Gospel, and ignoring or brushing lightly over that man's sins does disservice to the Holy Spirit and that man.

While the most important distinction between decisional evangelism and faith evangelism is the discussion of particular sin, it is not the only distinction.  And the most important difference in the immediate consequence of such a presentation is seen in the moving of the Holy Spirit.  We tread carefully here, recognizing that the Holy Spirit is God, omniscient, omnipotent and not bound by our presentation techniques.  He can move in the heart of one reading the text of Isaiah.  He can move in the heart of one intently focused on destroying Christians.  He can move in the heart of thousands just accused of deicide.  He is not limited by our methods or intents. 

But we do see a difference in the general mood of a faith based presentation of the Gospel versus a decisional based presentation.  Immediately following decisional evangelism there is relief, euphoria, joy and gladness.  These are all emotions seen just after someone purchases a car or house as well.  A big decision has been made - or perceived to have been made.  The process is quick to get to this point and stays at this point longest.

Conversely, immediately following the faith evangelism presentation of the Gospel we see despair, sadness, grief, humiliation, despondency and extreme sorrow.  We see the man beating his chest crying out to God "oh God be merciful to me, a sinner."  We see the thousands cut to the quick and crying out "Brothers, what shall we do?"  We see the man fallen on his face unable to look at the Lord cry out "Lord, what would you have me do?"  We see the woman wiping her Lord's feet with her tears and hair.  We see the man cry out "Lord, depart from me for I am a sinful man."  And we rarely if ever see God interrupting the sinner's sorrow. 
It is not that the faith evangelist will not eventually find the convert with joy, assurance, and relief and euphoria.  But when the faith evangelist finds his convert with joy, it is joy unspeakable and immeasurable.  The two different joys are hardly comparable.  The joy of the first is the joy of one who has purchased a car.  He or she is excited about getting to heaven, or realizing the wonderful plan God has for him or her.  The joy of the second is the joy of one released from the concentration camp, the joy of one released from decades of confinement in a solitary cell, the joy of one who finds her dearest loved one is alive when they were thought dead.  There is joy in both evangelism camps, but they can hardly be compared.

Finally, the question should be answered, how does the faith evangelist close the deal?  What is the hard sell?  The grace of God is presented in any true pronouncement of the Gospel.  For the Good News can hardly be good if we leave off the grace of God.  And yet, there is no sale.  The grace of God is glorified, worshipped and pronounced.  How is it pronounced?  By Peter it is pronounced "Repent and be baptized for the remission of your sins"  By our Lord it is pronounced "Take up your cross - your instrument of death - your flesh-executing equipment, and follow me"  We confess with our mouths and believe in our hearts - if God grants.  The faith evangelist is free at this point.  He or she is not responsible for the results of his work of evangelizing.  Yes, he has used the words and terms of his audience.  Yes, he has used relevant terminology and analogies.  Yes, he has tried to be all things to all men.  But he has not compromised the Gospel, and he has not appropriated for himself the results or the efficacy of the Gospel.  If ten thousand are saved he glorifies God.  If none hear, he glorifies God.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Controvery and Trust

“Controversy, properly conducted, is a friend to truth, and no enemy to benevolence.” Augustus Toplady in his eloquent letter and chastisement of John Wesley, March 26, 1770

Friday, February 6, 2009

Worshipping False Idols

There is a popular television series in America named “American Idol” wherein contestants audition before three judges to exhibit their individual singing talents.  The contestants are sifted and winnowed until there are but a few left.  The audience can participate in the gleaning process and ultimately only one contestant is deemed “America’s Next Idol” with his or her own record contract.

The show has been a phenomenal success.

What does this say about us?  You might object to where you perceive me going with this.  You might point out that the word “Idol” doesn’t infer that people actually worship these people.  You might suggest that no one sees these people as anything more than really talented singers and performers.  You might suggest that the term “Idol” is used only in a common vernacular sense.  But…

What if I were to point out that musicians in today’s society are treated differently than practically any other person?

There is no equivalent in American society to the cultural phenomena exhibited at concerts where people crowd together clamouring for a closer aspect of the performer.  These people offer themselves without reserve to the enjoyment of the performer.  In the secular extreme there are tens or hundreds of them willingly offering their physical bodies in sacrifice to the most prurient interests of the performer.  In any case the scene is filled invariably with hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands of people waving their arms, jumping frantically, screaming adoration – even BEFORE the artists take the stage.

The lives of these performers are scrutinized to the extreme as well.  The paparazzi follow them about hoping for a glimpse into the private lives of these people.  Books are written.  Magazine articles are written.  Posters are sold an hung on the walls of adoring teenagers and adults who should know better.  There is altogether an amusing and oft scandalous interest in these performers that exceeds any interest in a deity of any kind.

And herein lies my objection.  No one screams in adoration of God at any time.  No one clamours in excited anticipation at the sunset, on Easter morning, before the Lord’s Supper or at any other time for worship of God.  Yes, some will do this at “Christian Concerts” but there also appear the performers.  Take the performers away and the ‘worshippers’ change their whole demeanor.

What is being worshipped are people.  What is being worshipped are performers.

When was the last time the congregation stood in adamant applause at the reading of God’s word?  They applaud performances during the ‘worship’ hour, but when do they applaud God for being God?

When was the last time, we as children of God worshipped Him as much as we worship celebrities?  Can you really justify the ludicrous scene of a concert?  Can you really justify before God Almighty your interest in Oprah’s book club or your favorite football teams’ draft choice?  Can I really justify before my Father in Heaven my rapturous study of old movies and cinematic technique - or human philosophers – or the Chicago Bears for that matter?

It is not that the time I give to these things is bad.  It is the measure of that time.  It is the quality of that time.  I have forgotten the fourth commandment, which was never done away with or superseded.  I have given more excitement to the beginning of the NFL season than the beginning of Lent or Advent.  I have given more energy to memorizing U2 lyrics than the Psalms.  I have given more time to reading Plato than Paul.  I have given more worship to man than God.  May my Father in Heaven forgive me.

Are we worshipping false idols?  What do you think?  Perhaps it isn’t important to God?  Perhaps God isn’t jealous?  Perhaps God doesn’t really want our rapturous attentions and affectations?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Unpopular Biblical Teachings

What is the responsibility of a Christian in post-modern America when confronted with Biblical teaching that is clearly out of date and border-line hate speech in light of today’s enlightened culture?  The Bible teaches that wives should submit to husbands, that women are not to hold offices of authority in the church, that homosexuality is sin, that sinners are not to be welcomed into the local body, that coveting is one of the worst sins possible.  All of these teachings are passe and offensive to our culture.  Many of these teachings are offensive to ‘christians’ in our church pews today.  I suspect that several of you reading this are thinking me simply wrong in my assertions about what the Bible teaches.

And that is where I’m challenged.  In a recent article I read a teacher rebuts a new examination of 1 Timothy 2:12′s prohibition of women teachers, elders and pastors.  My church’s leadership would not agree, and in fact would suggest that the Bible allows such.  In reading through the article http://www.reformation21.org/articles/on-womens-ordination-a-response-to-dr-john-jefferson-davis-on-1-timothy-212.php I was struck to the heart by the humility of the author.  I was encouraged to think, what other Biblical teachings are unpopular?  What other doctrines central to Christianity are under attack?

It is not hard to find the big 3 under attack from without and from within today:

  1. The Role of Women in Leadership
  2. The Role of Homosexuals in the Church and Leadership
  3. The Exclusivity of Christ in Salvation

But I suggest there are a few others under attack in more subtle ways which are just as dangerous and just as likely to reform unsuspecting and childish Christians to the world instead of visa-versa:

  1. The Acceptability of Coveting (Posterity Seekers)
  2. The Worship of Man (American Idol, Sports, Health, Romance)
  3. Democracy (We are diluting the influence of a man who has walked with God for 50 years by the votes of very young Christians and children)
  4. Rejection of Familial and Elder Authority (children don’t obey, submit or honor)
  5. The Rejection of the Sabbath (while Jesus changed the Sabbath, He did not do away with the Sabbath)
  6. The Epidemic of Adultery
  7. The adulteration of the Gospel of Peace which substitutes peace between God and man with peace between man and man.

Worldly and Ungodly Prayers for Peace

I admit that I am frustrated.  For several weeks I have endured calls for corporate prayer for peace in the Middle East.  In searching through Scripture I can find no precedence for this behavior.  No where do I find the Apostles, the Disciples or Christ himself praying for peace between and among unbelievers.  From whence does this call originate?

Our prayers reveal what is happening in our hearts.  Those things that we desire and yet are incapable of attaining in and of ourselves, we naturally reach out to that higher power we choose to believe in and request assistance there.  We do not pray for those things we do not think about.  We do not pray for those things we care not for.  And while the call for corporate prayer more accurately reflects the heart of the leader, there is an acquiescence implied in the ability to call for the same prayer week after week without challenge.

So, I conclude that some have it heavy on their heart that people in the Middle East would stop shooting each other.  Remarkably, however, these same people have never displayed the same passion that those people living and dying in the Gaza Strip would come to receive salvation through faith in Christ.  Remarkably, a concern and heart for peace between God and the people in the Middle East is absent.  This is a worldly and ungodly prayer.

OK, so you might think me extreme?  How can praying for peace in the Middle East be worldly?  How can it be ungodly?  I’ll take both these challenges (perceived and anticipated I grant you) in turn.

First and foremost is worldliness.  Worldliness is that which the world embraces, nourishes, encourages and produces.  We are surrounded by worldly religions which produce prayers for peace.  Islam prays for peace (at least a good deal of Muslims claim to pray for peace).  Mormonism prays for peace.  Hinduism prays for peace.  Buddhism prays for peace.  Apostate churches pray for peace.  The most ungodly reprobate hedonistic Hollywood moguls and players pray for peace.  To pray for peace between men is so common as to be blasé.  I suspect that next to war and death Satan himself enjoys a good worldly call for peace.

There are those who will exclaim  “What’s wrong with peace?  Doesn't God want us to live in peace with one another?  Wasn't the advent of Christ accompanied by Angels singing from on high “Peace on Earth and Good Will to Men?”

I propose that God isn't interested in peace between men.  Not as most understand it.  God is interested in peace between Himself and those He has chosen from before time.  This was why Christ died for us.  Romans 5:1  The peace pronounced at the birth of Christ was limited to those who please God.  Luke 2:14  War is the natural consequence of sin.  Because sin is not eradicated before the second coming of Christ, there will be war.  To suggest the possibility of something else is to suggest that Christ’s second coming is unnecessary.  But what of particular peace?  Isn’t it true that God blessed Israel with times of peace?  II Chronicles 14:7  Yes, absolutely!  But the distinction is that Israel was the chosen people of God who enjoyed a specific and particular covenant with God.  They were promised peace if they followed God.  But they were promised war and pestilence and captivity if they forgot God.  Someone who would pray for Israel would rightly start out praying that Israel would remember her God and return to the Law and seek after God.  The answer to that prayer would assure peace.  However, when I listen carefully the call for repentance among Palestinians who would kill every living Israelite is nowhere heard.  When I listen carefully there is no call for repentance among Israelites either, or among Americans, or among terrorist, fascists, communists, socialist, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims or Christians.  Repentance is left out of those prayers.  And so, isn't it natural that God sends wars?  No, I'm not suggesting that we as non-Israelites are under that same promise-consequence covenant.  But I am suggesting that God has repeatedly sent war on those nations and people who forgot God.  If the people repented, peace would be a natural consequent, an inevitable result.  Why don’t we pray for that first?  The answer is in part because of the second accusation – they are ungodly prayers.

Having determined that the world prays for peace because it wishes to avoid repentance which naturally brings peace, we can look at why the prayer is ungodly.  The prayer of the ungodly seeks to avoid God’s will.  It changes and alters God’s will.  God’s will determines particular war, the most horrific, the most damning, the most inhuman war to ever occur is yet in the future and is determined, set out, and ultimately determined by a conquering God who makes Islamic jihad look like child’s play.  God’s will also allows particular war.  God is sovereign and He has set about natural consequences for disobeying His will.  When nations sin, war is a consequence.  When we seek to avoid the consequence without changing what brought about the consequence, we are in fact, seeking to avoid God’s will and natural order.  The empty prayer for peace without repentance is an ungodly prayer because it worships peace above God’s will.

And so I am frustrated.  When will we as Christians stop loving the World?  We are not to love the World – that includes the world’s love affair with peace without God.  Christ in his final hours refused to pray for the people in the world who were not Christians or who weren’t going to be Christians.  He doesn’t pray for world peace.   John 17:9  When we pray for the world and peace among and between men without first praying for God’s will, for repentance, for His glory, we are not praying for His will.  We are praying an ungodly and worldly prayer.

1 Timothy 2:1-2 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,  for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.

We are to pray for all people, for kings and for those in authority – that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life.  But the focus is on how we lead our lives and it includes a call to repentance and Godliness.  The prayer isn't beyond salvage – but it will take a lot to make it meaningful.