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.

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