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.

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