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


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.