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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Reporting Converts

Reporting of Conversions
I have been in the Southern Baptist church for over 45 years now and of those 45 years I have been involved in full-time ministry for almost 20 years.  I have seen, heard, and experienced the reporting of conversions in the church my whole life.  I have seen the usual method of seeing people walk forward at the end of a church service and ask Jesus in their heart.  This act was followed by a bold declaration of the pastor that so and so has been born again.  The congregation would always respond with a generous hand clap and the usual amen from the guy who always says amen.  I have seen the revival techniques of countless evangelists and their ability to get large numbers to come forward at the end of a service and ask Jesus into their hearts.  Once again this is followed by the joyful declaration of the pastor that so many were born again and then, yes you guessed it, the generous hand clap and the usual amen.  
I have heard the reports of foreign mission trips and local mission trips a hundred times over.  The numbers have been extremely large at times and followed with great rejoicing.  I distinctly remember one of my Mexico mission trips where we gathered at the end of the week and tallied up the numbers of converts.  What was so heartbreaking for me was that the number we came up with in Mexico grew by 20 by the time the report was given in the states.  I asked the pastor if 20 of our own people got saved on the bus ride home and he was not too impressed with my question.  
I am a man who is committed to the gospel and a man who regularly shares the gospel, but I am a man of questions as well.  Questions will not erase reality, but they will certainly expose falsehood.  I read an article this morning and the following is the gist of it (Article is found in “Southern Baptist Texan: Church outreach marks nearly 600 converts since 2010”; by Norm Miller; pg. 2):
Church outreach records 600 converts.  Out of these 600 converts they baptized 1/5 of them (120 – 480 were not baptized or we do not know if they were or not).  Why are 480 unaccounted for?  The church claims that the converts came from Beautiful Feet Ministries, mission trips, preaching in other churches, retreat settings, Vacation Bible School, musical presentation, jets, vacations, business trips, and North American Mission Board’s Evangelism Response Center.  I will comment upon this a little later.
How does the church report these converts?  A person leads someone to accept Jesus and then gets the converts name and contact information.  The person then calls the pastor and lets him know that another person has been converted.  The pastor has seven electric candles in front of the church and he lights one every time a call comes in and then on Sunday the people see the candle shining in front of the church and they can rejoice that God saved another soul.  This reporting is based upon John 1:4-5 and has now been given the title “Shattering the Darkness”.  My article would grow way too long to comment upon the misuse of John 1:4-5, so I shall refrain.  
I am all for conversion, but I have a few questions and thoughts.  I personally worked at Beautiful Feet Ministries for 3 years (a homeless mission in downtown Ft. Worth, Texas).  At Beautiful Feet Ministries they reported salvations almost every week and many of the ones they reported were from the same people getting ‘converted’ week after week.  In three years of ministry I never witnessed one baptism.  I did witness people who were drunks, drug addicts, and prostitutes who were reported ‘converted’, but they continued week after week as drunks, drug addicts, and prostitutes (I am not claiming no one was ever converted, but that the vast majority of ‘converts’ were repeats . . . God knows).  The article not only listed BFM, but also Vacation Bible School.  Why were the children from VBS not baptized?  After all the Southern Baptist are only a couple of years away from infant baptism so it seems like they ought to be able to get these 4 and 5 year old ‘converts’ baptized before VBS is over. 
How do you know if a man is converted?  How can you report confidently that a man has been born again?  If a man prays a prayer to accept Jesus, but never unites with a local church, is never baptized, and never becomes a disciple are we to conclude that he will go to heaven when he dies?  If a man says that he has prayed a prayer to ask Jesus in his heart five times can you guarantee that when you led him through the prayer the sixth time that it worked?  Can we light a candle and put in the front of the church as a testimony to the mercy of God in saving a sinner when there is a high probability that the person we lit the candle for is still unconverted?  
It is not a great achievement to get someone to repeat a prayer to ask Jesus into the heart, but try getting a person to stand in the waters of baptism and give their own testimony, unite with the local church, and serve that church for the glory of God until they die.  This will take a miracle and only God can accomplish it.  When Jesus finished sharing the gospel His disciples said, “Who then can be saved?”  Perhaps Jesus should have got the rich ruler to repeat a prayer and then Jesus could have lit a candle and the disciples could have rejoiced.  

Conclusion, preach the gospel, pass out tracts, do one on one evangelism, preach open-air, go on mission trips, and any other means possible to get the gospel into the ears of the lost, but do not buy into a superficial reporting of numbers for the glorification of the flesh and the winning of awards by the convention.  How should converts be reported?  Let them stand in the baptismal waters and give their own testimony and let them live their testimony out in a local church for the rest of their lives and all will know that they are one of Christ disciples.    

Friday, November 15, 2013

What to tell a sinner

How is the gospel presented today?

Years ago men knew how to speak to sinners and use the truth to touch the heart of man, but in the 21st century it is apparent that our approach is different.  There are numerous tracts that are given out to supposedly lead men to Christ, but there is a definite trend that shows the gospel is being weakened.  The modern gospel has a inherit desire to simplify things and to try as hard as possible to put things on a kindergarten level while at the same time presenting a picture of God that looks a little more like Santa Clause rather then the thrice holy God.  Let us take a brief look at a familiar gospel tract and contrast it with what the old dead guys would say to a sinner.

There was a popular gospel tract called the 4 Spiritual Laws and it is still around today.  The tract is introduced by saying that there are certain laws in nature (gravity) and there are certain laws spiritually. Here are the four laws that they present to man:

First, God loves you and offers a wonderful plan for your life.

Second, man is sinful and separated from God.  Therefore, he cannot know and experience God's love and plan for his life.

Third, Jesus Christ is God's only provision for man's sin.  Through Him you can know and experience God's love and plan for your life. 

Fourth, we must individually receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; then we can know and experience God's love and plan for our lives. 

These four laws are quickly followed up with a simple prayer that can be prayed and when the prayer is repeated the person is then given assurance that they are right with God and will go to heaven when they die. 

Short synopsis of the above 4 laws - God loves you, there is a sin problem, God gave Jesus to help make things right, and now it is in the hands of men to make the right decision where love can be experienced. 

Contrast the above thoughts with what a godly pastor would tell a sinner just a few hundred years ago:

Dear sir, you must stop provoking God by your great sins, you need to abandon your carnal lusts, you need to separate from being involved in the cares of this world, you need to think upon your sin and your offense towards God, and you must consider the shortness of life and the horror of hell.  Time is a thing that is exceedingly precious; eternity depends on it, but time is very short.  

First, it is God's manner to make men sensible of their misery and unworthiness before he appears in his mercy and love to them.

Second, God convinces sinners of the dreadful danger they are in by reason of their sin, that is, the relation that their sin has to misery.

Third, men generally respond to conviction of sin by trying to be better people so that God will give them the grace to become believers.  Through failed efforts to become better people they begin to see the need for help.

Fourth, the very meaning of the word 'gospel' or good news implies that it is news of deliverance and salvation, after great fear and distress.  

The above thoughts are from Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) and I have paraphrased them.  The contrast between the two sets of thought ought to be obvious.  

Thursday, November 14, 2013

12 steps to Hope

John Flavel (1628-1691)
Spiritual Curriculum that God uses to bring sinners to conversion
Flavel cautiously stated that though the order and degree may vary, God’s teaching upon the soul always includes the following:
First, an intuitive knowledge of the abundant evil of our sinful actions and nature
Second, a trembling fear of the wrath and misery threatened against sinners
Third, the concern that salvation from sin and God’s wrath is the most important business in life
Fourth, a compelling obligation to strive after salvation yet despair of obtaining salvation by one’s own will-power or worthiness
Fifth, a dawning hope from the general promises of the gospel that salvation is possible
Sixth, satisfaction with the fullness of Christ that everyone who receives Him will be saved to the uttermost
Seventh, the firm belief that no one can benefit from the blood of Christ unless he is united with Christ by faith
Eighth, the inward necessity to prayerfully seek from God all the grace we need to be united to Christ
Ninth, an abandonment of sinful lifestyles and companions to find mercy with God
Tenth, a heart-engaging view of the beauty and excellence of Christ’s church
Eleventh, a resolved determination not to give up on Christ and not to turn back to sin no matter what the cost, lest one be damned

Twelfth, courage to venture upon Christ despite one’s wickedness and fears of damnation because of the great promise of His grace

Typical 12 Step Recovery Plan 
(I have altered some of the wording but kept the same basic content)

  1. We admit we are powerless — that our lives have become unmanageable.
  2. We believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.
  3. We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. We continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
  11. We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. We having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, have tried to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

It does not take long to become man centered and man powered when the Word of God is abandoned and human philosophy is inserted.  The puritans of old truly understood the issue with man is a heart issue and the issue is sin.  Sin must be repented of.  Sin must be forgiven.  Sin's obliteration will only be accomplished by a Savior.  Jesus Christ, the very Son of God is the only One who can deal with the sin issue of the human heart.  Man is required to repent and to believe upon Christ (as He defines Himself).  All human effort for salvation, recovery, deliverance, and hope for eternal life is to disregarded and the only sufficient hope is faith in Christ. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Doctrine of Preparation

William Perkins (1558-1602)
Doctrine of Preparation
Steps to Salvation
  1. 1) God gives a sinner the outward means of grace, especially preaching plus some inward or outward affliction to subdue his stubbornness
  2. 2) God makes him attentive to the law to see what is good and what is evil
  3. 3) God causes him to “see and know his own peculiar and proper sins, whereby he offends God”.
  4. 4) God “smites the heart with a legal fear . . . makes the sinner fear punishment and hell, and despair of salvation, in regard of anything in himself”.

** One may experience the first four stages and yet not be born again

  1. 5) God stirs the person’s mind seriously to consider the gospel
  2. 6) God kindles in the heart sparks of faith consisting of a persistent desire to trust Christ
  3. 7) God sustains this faith to combat doubt, despair, and distrust
  4. 8) God quiets the conscience so that the soul rests on the promise of salvation
  5. 9) God stimulates the heart to “evangelical sorrow for sin, because it is sin, and because God is offended”.  This is evangelical repentance.
  6. 10) God gives grace to the saved sinner to labor to obey God’s commandments.

Willaim Ames (1576-1633)
Doctrine of Preparation 
How a sinner ought to prepare himself to conversion
  1. 1) Take a serious look in the law of God and into your life (James 1:23-25)
  2. 2) Be convicted by conscience that you are shut up in sin and without excuse (Rom.1:20; 2:20; 7:7; 11:32)
  3. 3) Despair of salvation by your strength or by any other means (Rom. 7:9, 11, 13)
  4. 4) Be humbled in grief, fear, and confession of sin.  This humiliation includes confession of particular sins (Rom. 7:7; Acts 2:23, 37).  It is often preceded by some painful circumstances (2 Chron. 33:12).  Though people feel various degrees of humiliation, “all those that are truly converted are also truly humbled”.
  5. 5) Recognize from the gospel that forgiveness is possible
  6. 6) Earnestly desire or hunger to be saved
  7. 7) Know that union with Christ by faith is the evidence of effectual calling
  8. 8) True repentance from sin and faith towards God are your only hope 
Modern Gospel (1930-Present)
Doctrine of Presentation 
How sinners can be counted in the church for the glory of man
  1. 1) Offer something to man that he simply cannot refuse. (fish fry, tickets to ball game, Halloween candy, Santa Clause, etc.)
  2. 2) Do whatever is possible to make the sinner feel welcome and comfortable in the church. (Starbucks coffee, secular music, comfortable couches, communion out of a popcorn bucket)
  3. 3) Present talks on currents trends, interesting topics, and 12 step plans to keep the sinner interested. (Sex, marriage, how to live victoriously, making money work for you, etc.) 
  4. 4) Repeatedly talk about the love of God for all people and esteem the sinner as special and tell him that if he was the only one on earth God would have sent his Son to die for him because he is so special. (elevate man, do not talk about sin, and exclude holiness)
  5. 5) Do nothing to stir the mind and cause the sinner to contemplate his predicament before God. (Thinking is hard, so make everything as easy as possible)  Note: Do not use words like propitiation, election, repentance, wrath, hypostatic union, Trinity, etc.)
  6. 6) Tell the sinner that salvation is in his hands and if he is smart enough he will choose to open the door and let impotent Jesus in.  (Congratulate him for his intelligent decision and do not bring up the fact that all other lost people are just too stupid to choose Jesus)
  7. 7) Tell the sinner that if he has any doubts about his standing with God he simply needs to come to church regularly, tithe more, and do community service. (Put him on a committee, make him a deacon, just keep him busy enough that he keeps coming)
  8. 8) Tell the sinner that if his conscience is bothering him that it is probably the devil whispering lies into his ears and he simply needs to rebuke the devil and bind him from his life (Teach him how to bind the devil, kick the devil out, and to let go and let God) 
  9. 9) Tell the sinner to reform his life by hanging out with better friends, practicing self-control, and above all to use his free-will to choose that which is right. (Remember, environment is more effect than anything else so teach him that friends, groups, and organizations is the key to peace for his soul)
  10. 10) Finally, to ensure that the sinner is ready to be presented to the church, tell him to repeat a prayer after you, get baptized tonight in the evening service, and although you may never see him again at least you had a great church service and the sinner now has a dead conscience. (We have come a long ways since William Perkins, William Ames, and many other Puritans were leading the church . . . God help us!)

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Road Less Traveled

"Reproaches have broken my heart, so that I am in despair.  I looked for pity, but there was none, and for comforters, but I found none" (Psa. 69:20).

I have two markings in my bible in regards to Psalm 69.  The first mark is at the beginning of the chapter and reminds me of a close friend who terminated our friendship and accused me of being a false teacher.  The second mark is in the right hand column beside verse 20 and it says, "saddest verse in Scripture".  I often put these thoughts together in my mind and heart and by the Spirit I find great solace.  Here is how my thought pattern or meditation goes:

I begin by thinking upon the Captain of my Salvation.  I picture in my mind the sinless Son of God who came to earth to redeem wicked men for the glory of His Father.  Jesus Christ did everything in his life perfectly and all that He did was for my good.  His life, teaching, preaching, character, attitude, emotions, and His path to the cross were all impeccable.  I then ponder the way that He was regarded by others in the world.  Jesus had followers that seemed very committed to Him, followers that were superficial, folks that straight-up hated Him, and others who did all they could to ignore Him.

It is when trouble comes that a man finds out who his friends really are.  When the fire became its hottest the number of people associated with Jesus dwindled to none.  The large crowds abandoned him in John 6, Judas was not far behind the crowds, and even those who were closest too Him turned and ran. The great Peter had his self-confidence blown over by the breath of a sorry little girl. When the cursing, mocking, beating, stripping, and the wagging of heads was at its highest temper there were none to be found siding with the great Captain of my Salvation.  David says, "[Jesus] looked for pity, but there was none, and for comforters, but [Jesus] found none".  His Father above was pouring down wrath and Jesus was drinking that cup to the last drop, while at the same time the world below was hurling insults and running to hide and deny any association with Him.  The Captain of my Salvation then said the greatest words I have ever read, "τετέλεσται"!  Yes, the greatest war ever won in all of history was won by one man, alone!  Even though heaven and the world turned against Him, He still walked the narrow road all the way to victory.  I love my Savior!!!!

Secondly, I evaluate my circumstances, emotions, disappointments, and my supposed sufferings in light of my Christ centered meditations and somehow my heart is strangely warmed.  Honestly I say to myself, "the whole world would be justified in turning their back on you because of the greatness of your sins" and my mouth is stopped.  If every friend was to desert me, every family member was to disown me, and even if my own household were to turn against me there would be justifiable reason for them to do so in light of the wickedness of my own heart.

How in the world can such meditation and pondering be helpful to the soul?

First, there is no better medicine for the soul than to look upon Christ.  Secondly, human nature has a way of exalting self and pride is a dangerous friend.  Third, a proper view of a man's heart will cause him to have a higher view of Christ.  Fourth, horizontal visions distort the truth and vertical visions bring clarity to the heart.  Last, no matter how lonely a road may seem, a road that is traveled with Christ is the best road to walk upon.