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THE CUTTING EDGE
(Fifth in a series)
When—as we have repeatedly pointed out in this series of articles—the Sovereignty of God in salvation is disregarded and Scriptural methods are cast aside, evangelism becomes little more than salesmanship. All men on earth become candidates for salvation and only need to be persuaded in order to reap the benefits. Induce them to walk the aisle, “accept” Christ as their Lord and Savior, and then chalk up another score for some “soul-winner.” The only problem is that no human has ever “won” a soul to Christ in the manner just described! Spiritually dead men cannot possibly “make a decision for Christ” and those who profess to do so remain dead! Only the Holy Spirit of God can actually win a soul to Christ and He does so by granting spiritual life through regeneration—thereby enabling the elect individual to believe. Prior to possessing spiritual life, genuine belief is totally impossible. Justification, or salvation per se, for the elect was accomplished in eternity past (Romans 8:30). The human instrument utilized by God is nothing more than a yielded “tabernacle”, or body, for the Holy Spirit’s use in guiding the sheep to the shepherd. Once we have given the simple Gospel message to a lost person and lovingly appealed for them to come to Christ—our soul-winning strategy is all but complete. We need to pray for them to be saved and live the Christian life before them as a testimony to Jesus Christ, but we can definitely go too far in our zeal. Nowhere in the examples given to us in the New Testament can be found any emotionally charged psychological pressure applied by preachers. As a matter of fact, the two sermons by Peter in the book of Acts—one on the day of Pentecost and the other to the household of Cornelius—are models of brevity, concise and to the point. He gave them the simple and supernatural Gospel message and then got out of the way! The real soul-winner, the Holy Spirit, did His work, elect souls believed and were added to the Church. Remember that Acts 13:48b says, “….and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.”
When the Holy Spirit is at work in the matter of regenerating lost sheep, and they believe as the result of receiving spiritual life, there is a certain intangible supernatural “something” about the process that appeals to the flesh. We see this principle demonstrated in the actions of Simon the sorcerer (Acts 8:9-24). During that period of transition between law and grace, some people in Samaria had believed the preaching of Philip—but for whatever reason had not received the Holy Spirit (a definite exception and not the rule for today). When the apostles heard of their conversion, they sent Peter and John to them, who then prayed that they might receive the Spirit and laid their hands upon them. Simon saw what happened, was so impressed by their reception of the Holy Spirit that he tried to pay Peter and John for the secret to that kind of power, and Peter literally told him where he could go with his money! Spiritual regeneration is always a wonderful thing, even when it is just one soul at a time, but when entire groups of people are involved the “electricity” is a powerful force and the flesh wants more of it! Only once in my entire life have I seen genuine heaven-sent, Holy Spirit revival and it only lasted for a little over a week. Just a “shower of blessing,” but once you have experienced it you want it to continue and are very disappointed when it does not. We can only imagine what it was like during the days of Charles Finney when revival outbreaks were so intense that one area of New York state (?) was called the “burned over area” because God’s revival fires had burned so brightly there. And when the revivals died out, only to rekindle elsewhere and then finally fade away, preachers yearned for the power to return. When it did not and true revival was only a receding memory, they were desperate for more. Well, it has been said that “necessity is the mother of invention” and Charles Finney seized the opportunity by announcing his “new measures for a new theology” and “revival upon demand” by using his methods. He reasoned that by applying intense psychological pressure, men could be persuaded to “accept” Christ—and when he put it to the test, it worked! Worked so well, in fact, that his methods literally changed the face of evangelism in the space of a few short years. No matter that a time-honored and Biblically sound theology was largely discarded in the process, along with the absolute Sovereignty of God—“revival” was back and men were being “saved” once again. Get the picture?
Finney did nothing less than utilize the fact that we humans are emotional and most of us can be psychologically manipulated under certain conditions. The right mix of guilt-laden sermons, music, and emotional appeals can often move the most hard-hearted of men—reducing them to a blubbering mass of tears and ready to “make things right.” Under these conditions it is not a terribly difficult thing for a “properly trained personal worker” to maneuver them into a “decision for Christ.” However, a spiritually dead man deciding for Christ accomplishes nothing other than perhaps a brief period of guilt relief. His eternal destination has not changed one iota, because he has not been born again through the agency of the Holy Spirit. He has exercised his theologically non-existent “free will” and made a decision—but the decision was not his to make! Nowhere in the New Testament will you find any instances of anyone “accepting” or “deciding for Christ.” By the thousands, they just believed after having been born again through the Sovereign grace of God. Genuine belief was totally impossible otherwise.
As we keep repeating: bad doctrine begets bad practice. Putting salvation into the hands of the individual by telling them “God has done all He can, now the rest is up to you,” sounds plausible to the flesh and has become a very popular position—but it is neither Scriptural, nor theological. Teaching that a person has to exercise their free will and accept Christ to be saved is part and parcel of Finney’s new theology—and the backbone of New Evangelicalism. Remember when God told childless Abram (later renamed Abraham by God) that he and Sarai were going to have a son? (Genesis15:1-6). What did these two saints of God wind up doing? They took matters into their own hands, “leaned (instead of lean not) unto their own understanding” (Prov.3:5), and “helped God” in the matter. Ishmael was the result and his offspring are still troubling Israel and the rest of the world to this very hour! God does not need nor want our help. When He intends to call in one of His elect sheep, He does so—and allows some yielded believer(s) in the process to “plant the seed” and/or “water it” (1 Cor. 3:6), but He gets the increase. We, like Abram and Sarai, err greatly when we attempt to help God and go too far in witnessing to unbelievers. By all means tell them about the Lord! By all means try to live the Christian life before them as a testimony to Christ, pray for them, and, as the Spirit leads, talk to them about spiritual things—but once you have shared the simple and supernatural Gospel message with them, do not be guilty of going too far in applying pressure through good intentions. It is understandable that we want our friends and loved ones to be saved. It is human nature to hurt for those who are blind and cannot see the light, but salvation is of the Lord and we must not attempt to take matters into our own hands. How many “Ishmaels” are in our Churches today as a direct result of good intentions? The adherents of New Evangelicalism are producing Ishmaels by the thousands around the world through their appeals to both the emotions and intellect. But are some genuinely saved as a result of their efforts? We have no doubt of it, because God still honors His Word when it is preached—no matter who is doing the preaching, but the tares generated certainly do not justify the methods used.
New Evangelicalism is completely obsessed with numbers and does anything not considered illegal, immoral, or fattening to get them. As we have seen in previous articles, they overtly reject the Bible doctrine of separation and insist upon a program of what they term “infiltration.” Rather than separate from sin in accord with God’s command and refuse to participate in fleshly activities so popular with unregenerate people, they adopt the position that they are much more likely to “win” people to Christ by being their buddies—hence the “infiltration” aspect. God says to His people, “Separate—insulate—from them and their sinful lifestyles and touch not the unclean thing.” And we agree up front that this is definitely not the “Dale Carnegie How to win friends and influence people” program and is diametrically opposed to the way we humans would do it. But God’s ways are always counter to ours! We are depraved and sinful creatures—He is perfection Personified and has given us in the Bible a method of evangelism guaranteed to bring honor and glory to Jesus Christ by virtue of its simplicity and demonstration of obvious supernatural power when lost elect sheep are regenerated. This is by heavenly design and is intended to prevent the inevitable boasting by stupid humans in claiming we played some part in it. However, in practice time has shown that this method does not usually set the woods on fire with converts unless God decides to send revival, in which case they often come in bunches! And this is the problem, folks! The frequency/degree of results are not to the liking of sinful men and they have decided to help God save more souls. Let’s face it, we humans are clever dudes and never let it be said that we cannot come up with a “better way” if we try. Charles Finney did it and the current crop of New Evangelicals is still in the process of refining the process to an art form. Never mind that it is totally unscriptural, they want it judged by the results. (And make no mistake about it—God will do just that!)
This “better way” used some creative exegesis to formulate a theological position that maintains Jesus Christ died for the sins of all men without exception. And since God loves every one of them, their sins have been paid for, and all they must do is accept the sacrifice Christ made on their behalf for them to be saved. This contrived theological position opens the door wide for men to convince other men, using whatever methods and practices that get the job done, to make professions of faith. “Hey, we’re getting souls saved here—don’t be so critical!” “Our Church is growing ten times faster than any other in the county, so it is obvious that we are doing the right thing.” WRONG!!! Apparently it has never dawned upon these deluded and duped do-gooders that Satan is all too willing to help them out! Getting men, women, boys and girls to make decisions they see as a fire escape from hell is really not all that hard. And the devil would like nothing better than to flood our Churches with false converts. We can “decide” until we turn blue, but if God has not chosen us “in Christ from before the foundation of the world” (Eph.1:4), all of our deciding is a waste of time and we remain just as unconverted as ever.
To elicit decisions, appeals are being made to both the intellect as well as the emotions—and in view of the theology, this is exactly what we would expect. For those of you who may be puzzled over the tactics of your pastor in his using certain plans and programs, more often than not this is the reason behind them. Decision totals have become the life-blood of evangelism and most people judge ministries based solely on this criteria. To compete in the high-pressure world of mass evangelism and maintain the viability of his pension plan, most contemporary preachers are quite literally forced by circumstances to consult the experts for a program designed to meet their particular needs. “When you snooze, you lose,” is the order of the day. If you do not keep the numbers up and the troops happy with plans and programs, you are likely to face an unpleasant reality. The whole mess is about as spiritual as the average alley cat, but competitive preachers just love it to death.
Over the years I have read many books, articles, and sermons dealing with this subject, but few have been as revealing as a book I received recently from a lady doing research for Cutting Edge. It is entitled “Inside the Mind of Unchurched Harry and Mary” by Lee Strobel, Zondervan Publishing, ISBN 0-310-37561-4, copyright 1993. In this book, Mr. Strobel gives insightful instruction about how one can go about reaching out to those who are “unchurched”—individuals who are likely to refer to themselves as atheists, agnostics, or just plain disinterested in spiritual things. In page after page of interesting reading, Mr. Strobel relates numerous instances—one being his own—of how people formerly hardened to spiritual things came to the point of intellectual perception of Christ and salvation. He bases his “how-to” methods upon his own search for truth and the journey involved. Illustration after illustration involves scientists, doctors, and a host of other professionals whom he has challenged to consider the evidence before closing their minds to the truth of Christ. Many took his advice and eventually made professions of faith or have made significant strides toward doing so. His explanations and illustrations are as smooth and classy as you would expect from a newspaper reporter (his profession) and they are logical in pointing out mistakes Churches make in trying to cater to this group. He tells of one Church he visited that were making a valiant effort to minister to contemporary society, but the music was unfamiliar because it was taken from hymnals and thus outdated. He felt uneasy because he did not know the words and suggested that it would be much better to use music calculated to make people like him more at home in the Church setting. Another illustration tells of a Church meeting in an old theater where the lights could be dimmed and this provided anonymity for those observing and trying to make up their mind about spiritual matters. For 225 pages he continues to give well thought out and logical reasons for his suggestions—all of which are expressly designed to make the Church experience something desirable for today’s well educated professionals—and of course, his inference is that these should be the prime candidates for Churches to target. After all, their education, talent, and money would come in mighty handy and it is a shame to turn them off by using misinformed and misguided programs.
This, my friends, is a perfect example of the New Evangelical mind set! It is human nature to be “honored” by the concurrence of a big shot and many preachers fall all over themselves to insure that they recruit as many prestigious people as possible. Apparently they feel their own ministry is somehow validated by the presence of intellectuals and professionals, but interestingly enough the Bible takes a much different view! Consider the following comments the apostle Paul made to the Corinthian Church:
“For [simply] consider your own call, brethren; not many [of you were considered to be] wise, according to human estimates and standards; not many influential and powerful; not many of high and noble birth. [No,] for God selected—deliberately chose—what in the world is foolish to put the wise to shame, and what the world calls weak to put the strong to shame. And God also selected—deliberately chose—[what] in the world [is] lowborn and insignificant, and branded and treated with contempt, even the things that are nothing, that He might depose and bring to nothing the things that are” (1 Corinthians 1:26-28, Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible commentary).
In reference to the statistical makeup of the average Church, Paul told the Corinthian believers to “turn around” and look at themselves—at their own situation. They would quickly discover that God had not chosen nor called many from the country club set. Some, yes, but not many! And please note it was God that did the choosing and calling. The physical make-up of the First Church of Corinth was determined by God Himself and not the result of programs utilizing methods targeted for the “up and outers” of the community. Men always make a tragic mistake when they attempt to help God in the salvation of souls by using methods foreign to His Word. He has decreed that His elect will be called through the means of the extremely simple message we know as the Gospel. Sooner or later each and every one will respond and believe—not one will be lost. Over the years I have repeatedly used the illustration of a magnet and objects made of iron to make the point. You can pull a magnet through a pile of brass, aluminum, wood, glass, etc., and it will always come out clean as a whistle. But pull it through a pile of iron filings and it will come out coated with them. If the magnet is strong enough (and God’s Gospel magnet is infinitely so), it will pick up all of the filings without exception. Put those same filings in a large bag filled with flour and you will soon come to appreciate the ability of the magnet to attract iron and not flour! You will also understand the illustration even better if you attempt to pick out the filings with your fingers, because you will wind up with much more flour than iron. Such is the case when we try to help God by taking matters into our own hands rather than properly using His magnet—many more unbelievers than elect souls wind up in our Churches.
The subject of apologetics—the branch of theology that deals with the defense and proof of Christianity—is a wonderful faith-enhancing tool for instructing Christians, but great care must be exercised when trying to use it as a basis for convincing unbelievers. Why? Because it appeals to their intellect and emotions! When confronted with undeniable evidence they often wind up making a decision based upon intellectual assent to the facts rather than as the result of the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. Couple this with a little “feel good” emotion supplied by the devil and voila!—another spiritually dead candidate for baptism and Church membership. Remember Simon the sorcerer we mentioned earlier? In Acts 8:13 we are told that Simon believed. If his profession of faith had occurred last Sunday, he would probably already be baptized and voted into the membership. But it took place just days after the birth of the Church at Pentecost, during a time in which the Holy Spirit was working mightily in the lives of the apostles. Simon’s subsequent actions revealed an unconverted heart and Peter let him have it right between the eyes! His belief was shown to be intellectual—in his head and not in his heart. He was impressed by the miraculous works of the Holy Spirit and realized that he was witnessing a power far greater than the occult power he had been given. So he believed the obvious. Secular history also confirms Simon’s false profession by giving us some sketchy, but revealing, details of his unholy activities after having traveled to Rome.
Trying to convince people to believe and receive Jesus Christ into their lives is the God-given responsibility of every believer, but must be done within the evangelical framework given to us in the Bible. God has ordained that His saints remain separated while living “soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world” (Titus 2:12b, KJV). We must attempt to preach the Gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15) and yield ourselves to the Holy Spirit on a daily basis in order that His influence will work through us to touch the lives of others. A believer filled with the Holy Spirit and empty of self is going to bear fruit for the Lord because He has ordained it to be so. But tares are the inevitable result of unbridled zeal coupled with bad doctrine. Churches loaded with unbelievers are sliding into apostasy and seminaries are producing hordes of New Evangelical clones to grease the skids. It reminds us of a nuclear “chain reaction” in which uncontrolled fission takes place and a powerful explosion is the result. As the apostasy widens, the day is rapidly approaching when God’s patience will end and He will allow the devil to possess a certain individual and become Satan incarnate—the antichrist. The result is going to be a spiritual explosion that will devastate this planet. Are you guilty of contributing to the carnage by attempting to do God’s work, man’s way?
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