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'ĂȘtre 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.


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