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