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.