A popular, but corrupt evangelistic method

This blog should never have happened. Really, I didn’t intend to get so stirred up. We recently visited an IFB church (Independent Fundamental Baptist) with a couple of goals in mind. First, I was hoping to find a man, perhaps retired like me, who might be interested in teaming up occasionally to do 121 evangelism on local campuses. Second, we were hopeful that we might meet a mature Christian couple to have occasional fellowship with. Now, there is no way that we would become members of such a pulpit- and facility-driven church. We are entirely committed to the New Testament pattern of house church discipleship, as described in my many essays and blogs on the subject. But isn’t it theoretically possible, at least, that Christians in the same community, although part of different churches, could engage in some level of friendship?

Yeah, I know that’s a long shot. But in failing once again in my quest to find Christians serious about Biblical evangelism and discipleship / fellowship, I learned some interesting things. And so this blog.

The first Sunday we visited XYZ Baptist Church (name altered here to protect the guilty) featured a sermon on the necessity of repentance in order for a man to be saved. The preacher – the “senior pastor” – laid the case out quite thoroughly, using many Scriptures to prove that a lost sinner must turn from his transgressions AND trust in Christ as Saviour, or else stay lost. He used scores of verses, including Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:15, and Ezekiel 18:30-31, for example. He also affirmed the idea of false converts, multitudes who profess Christ, but never truly repented. I was greatly encouraged that this church seemed to have their theology intact and so it might be possible to find an evangelistic co-worker who wouldn’t merely be generating false converts with an incomplete or heretical message.

Now, most IFB churches take a heretical view, namely that a man’s part in salvation is to believe the facts of the Gospel and to simply trust Jesus to save him. The issue of repentance is deferred until later, allegedly after salvation, and delegated to the Holy Spirit to work in the heart. In other words, repentance is relegated strictly to the realm of sanctification, and has no part in conversion. The “Romans Road” selection of verses is used by fundies and gellies alike to instruct the lost on the generic nature of their “sin,” neglecting discussion of actual and specific sins. In fact “sin” is often defined as the “Inherited Sin Nature” derived from Adam. (See my essay on Inherited Sin Nature and prepare to be shocked and outraged.) The method goes on to explain how the Cross is the solution to sin and the way to obtain salvation is to sincerely pray a so-called “Sinner’s Prayer.” Once this magic prayer has been uttered sincerely(!), the “soul winner” (a bad term) assures the fellow that he has been born again.

But this church seemed to get it right! XYZ Baptist has about 400 members, and launches about 30 of them into the community each week to knock doors, pass out tracts, and try to share the Gospel. The first sign of trouble came at the end of the service, at “invitation time.” After nearly an hour of using strictly Biblical language and hammering home the doctrine of repentance, the preacher implored any lost sinners in the audience to come forward to “accept Jesus,” or to “receive Christ.” Suddenly he sounded just like “those other guys.” Salvation is not about us accepting Jesus. It’s about whether He accepts us, contingent on repentance and faith. The accept-or has the power. The accept-ee must meet the conditions. The Lord Jesus Christ is clearly the One with the power in this transaction! The term “receive Christ” is lifted from John 1:12 and often used by the heretical camp in the sense of, “Just receive Christ right now by sincerely praying this prayer.” Please read the context of John 1:12. The term “received Him” refers to those Jews who fully embraced the entire message and person of the Messiah, in repentance and faith. It has nothing to do with the Romans Road and Sinner’s Prayer methodology.

I was anxious to get to the bottom of the issue. Just where does this church stand? After several requests (it shouldn’t be so hard to get someone from a church to pay a house call to a visitor), we were visited by the “#2 man” and his wife. (Hey, he used the terms “#2” to describe himself and #1” to describe the senior pastor, so don’t accuse me of being disrespectful!) We talked for three hours about evangelism and discipleship. It was very gracious of them to give us this amount of time, but I’ve learned that it takes a good while to get clarity on these issues.

Here is some of that clarity . . . Pastor #2 had been on the mission field for 40 years before accepting the “2 man” position at XYZ. He affirmed his stance on repentance, as preached by #1. So I challenged him on the upcoming visit by an evangelist on the faculty of West Coast Baptist College. Researching this fellow, it is clear that he stands in the “repentance-less” camp. His invitations are classic Jack Hyles, Shelton Smith, and Paul Chappell . . . Chappell is this evangelist’s boss, head of WCBC, and pastor of Lancaster Baptist Church in California. By the way, “repentance-less” invitations are also embraced by such luminaries as Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, and most evangelical preachers out there.

Interestingly, #2 admitted that he was distressed about the pending visit and said that he had argued against it. But, of course, he had to defer to #1, no matter what damnable heresies might be preached by the evangelist during the coming “revival campaign.” Damnable? Can you think of any heresy more damnable than one that leads a lost sinner directly astray from his only hope for salvation, and then assures him that he’s now secure?

I then handed #2 one of the church’s self-published Gospel tracts, that avoids the subject of Hell, and describes a repentance-less Gospel. He was startled in examining the tract, and said that he would look into the matter. Also, he encouraged me to ask #1 directly about these things, perhaps during a “new people” class to be held in the Sunday School hour in a couple of weeks.

While pressing #2 on his personal methodology, he related an occasion in which he visited the home of a young couple living in fornication. Amazingly, he admitted that he walked through a Romans Road plan and never brought up the fornication issue. I asked how he could avoid the one big glaring sin that he knew about, especially since that would serve so well as an example of a sin that they should repent from. He insisted that it was the Holy Spirit’s job to convict them of that. They needed to “get saved” first. Hmm.

I moved on to inquire how I could find a potential partner for campus evangelism. It was clear that XYZ has no interest in this campus of 50,000 students because it is 15 miles away and unlikely to provide church-attending members. (In fact I recently talked to an IFB pastor who is trying to plant a church in a storefront just 1 mile from the campus! He was knocking thousands of doors in the adjoining city, but had no interest in reaching out to the students. Wow. Money for offerings is apparently the overwhelming priority, and college students simply don’t qualify.)

But could #2 recommend a partner?!? He said I wouldn’t like the answer. We should join the church and gradually get to know the folks and maybe I might find one. He doesn’t know his people well enough to suggest a particular candidate. I pointed out that since weekly services were so passive and so scripted, there are only a few minutes before and after services to say Hi to anyone. Oh, but there is a monthly “fellowship” for senior adults. Ok, so we’re already at the end of January, leaving two possible “fellowship” meetings in February and March, before the semester ends at the end of April, and the campus is effectively vacant until September.

What I marvel at in this situation is how most Christians have no interest in real fellowship, no care that there are no weekly opportunities to discuss spiritual issues, exhort one another, teach one another, and exercise the many spiritual gifts that the Holy Spirit has promised New Testament disciples. It essentially was not possible for me to find a like-minded believer at XYZ, even if he existed. How about making a “public appeal” during a morning service? No, that would not be permitted.

We were there for the first two sermons from the visiting evangelist. His purposes were two-fold: first, to “revive” believers toward greater service; and second, to invite unbelievers in the audience to “get saved.” His invitation was classically horrific, as expected. Repentance was never mentioned and he assured anyone that was interested that they could come forward, meet with someone and get saved in less than five minutes. After all, that’s all the time it takes to get to and through the Sinner’s Prayer. He repeatedly urged anyone to come forward who was “not sure” of salvation. Apparently, you can be 98% sure, and then come forward to get that last 2%. Nope. To be saved you must be 100% lost in your own mind. (See Luke 5:32 in context.)

The following week we visited #1’s “new people” class. There were about a dozen adults there. I’d been assured by several others that there would be opportunities for questions. At the beginning of the class, #1 said that we would “have fun” in the next hour. Apparently, that means him talking non-stop for 60 minutes. At what I thought was a relevant point, I raised my hand and stated that I understood that we could ask questions. He was clearly reluctant, expressing reservations about whether my questions would be genuine. Mind you, he didn’t know me at all. His basic presumption was that questions are trouble!

I complimented him on his “repentance sermon,” but wanted clarity because of the evangelist’s message the previous Sunday. I expressed concern because of the connection to Paul Chappell, who has written a book on “soul winning,” To Seek and to Save, a book I noticed was in XYZ’s bookstore. Years ago, I carefully marked up Chappell’s book and found it to be a horrid stereotype of “easy believism,” “quick prayerism,” and “repentance-less” conversion. I also reported that I had talked to three different adults regarding XYZ’s door-to-door work, and each was committed to the Romans Road / Sinner’s Prayer. After a bit of back and forth, I also slipped in that XYZ’s tracts were wholly in the “other camp.” #1 got defensive immediately. What shocked me, however, and I don’t get shocked easily, was the prevarication (lies) that followed. I was too polite to call him out on the lies . . . also, I was a bit dumbfounded that he would so resort. I’ll enumerate:

1. He insisted that the evangelist was there strictly to stir up the believers, not to do evangelistic invitations. Not true. We had been there.
2. He said he knew Paul Chappell very well, having been to almost all of PC’s leadership conferences. And Paul Chappell is sound on the doctrine of repentance! Besides, and I’ll quote him, “You can’t judge a man just by his book!” Really? You can’t judge someone by the very book he writes on the very subject, which he still prints and that you sell in your own bookstore?!? Besides, if PC and his evangelist were so sound, why were you so careful to claim that the evangelist was not there to preach to the lost?
3. He claimed that Gospel tracts are too short to include everything (like repentance), and that XYZ’s tracts are designed separately to cover different parts of the message, especially so that on subsequent visits to a lost sinner’s door, different tracts can be used. Wow. Just making it up on the spot. Their tracts are virtually identical in their Gospel presentation and have no hint of leaving out part of the message. Namely, each one drives to a Sinner’s Prayer conclusion. Ergo, the tract claims to be complete enough to tell a man how to be saved. Also, different tracts with different messages for different visits? I got no sense of that whatsoever from the three men I talked to.

#1 went on to filibuster the issue and transition smoothly into his next topic, working to make sure that the rest of the adults present would conclude that the issue was bogus, no problems, we’re covered, you can see why questions are undesirable, etc. He also affirmed his belief at one point that it is the Holy Spirit’s job to provoke repentance AFTER salvation. Hmm. Didn’t hear that in his sermon on the subject.

The prevaricating filibuster by #1 is a good example of the fruits of the unbiblical one-man pastorate. He simply did not want to be challenged. And rather than examine the challenge honestly, he was tempted to dismiss the issue by fabrication. Having been a professional scientist, engineer, and Air Force officer during my career, I am quite sensitive to someone “blowing smoke.” In the military and in Defense R&D, the culture involves fierce competition for resources. Meetings can be contentious and woe to the fellow who tries to win an argument with no supporting evidence. Such a culture is very healthy for deterring the fabricator and the con artist. In fundie culture, a “man of God” feels the same temptation to lie in order to win a dispute, but is not accountable. If his character is weak, he succumbs and everyone suffers.

I looked up XYZ’s “plan of salvation” posted on their web site. I point out that on a web site you are not limited by real estate, so you need not leave any important issues out, like that pesky issue of repentance. Below, in the appendix to this blog, I copy the relevant page in its entirety. Please analyze it for yourself. I’ll mention just a few things here:

1. The word “repent” is never mentioned, nor is the concept.
2. Sin is kept general. Don’t want to offend anyone with specifics. Apparently, John the Baptist was a fool to call Herod out on adultery. It cost him his head. Too bad that he didn’t have the wisdom of modern “soul winners.”
3. The only mention of Hell is that it’s a place apart from God and that’s “not a good thing.” Wow.
4. Romans 3:23 apparently teaches that nobody is perfect. What about the wickedness of sin? What about God’s holy laws? What about the judgment we deserve, thousands of times over?
5. “Jesus Christ wants to be your Saviour!” The impression I get here is Jesus begging, “Please let me save you.” Rather than the Biblical command to repent.
6. Observe how little emphasis is placed on the “bad news,” and how much on the “good news.”
7. “He says it’s as simple as believing and receiving! It’s as simple as asking!” Just believe and receive. Forget conviction. Forget repentance. Forget a broken heart and a broken spirit. Forget the entire pattern of Scripture!
8. Quickly on to a Sinner’s Prayer and then a pronouncement of salvation.

So what’s going on here? This church is about as “conservative” as you will find in the IFB community. They are in the distinct minority who profess to believe that repentance is essential to salvation. And yet they are entirely corrupt in their Gospel presentation, certain to generate false converts by the bucket-full.

This isn’t just about one church. This plague of corrupt evangelism is pervasive throughout fundamentalism and evangelicalism. It’s as if a cloud of Satanic delusion hangs over church after church. If the Devil cannot corrupt a church’s basic theology, then he will corrupt its practice.

XYZ Baptist Church, along with most IFB churches, professes to despise Calvinistic doctrine, yet they have been polluted by it themselves. First, their embrace of the false doctrine of Inherited Sin Nature provokes them to tell the lost that he “sins because he has been born a sinner.” As opposed to the straightforward Biblical teaching that sin is the transgression of the law, and therefore you are a sinner because you sin! This isn’t complicated! The Calvinist magnifies the idea of sin nature into “Total Depravity,” concluding that no man is even ABLE to repent or believe. Despite the Lord’s repeated pleas to men from Genesis to Revelation to choose to repent. (See my Tract for the Committed Calvinist, Section #3 of The 10 Most Deadly Heresies, and Blog #12 in my 2013 archive for an extensive discussion.)

Second, the methodology calls for mere fact-assenting faith and then, as in Calvinism, entrusts the Holy Spirit to GIVE repentance, albeit after conversion. This is clearly semi-Calvinist. The Calvinist believes that God does everything, including GIVING repentance and faith to the Totally Depraved. The fundie pleads with the lost to assent to Gospel facts, pray a prayer, and then trusts God to GIVE repentance. Additionally, the “born a sinner” idea leads the lost man AWAY from his personal responsibility for his own willful sins. If he properly understands what you’re telling him, then Hey, it’s Adam’s fault!

I believe what really drives this idea that repentance is the job of the Holy Spirit is cowardice. The “soul winner” chickens out, not wanting to bring up specific sins. That’s confrontational! That’s uncomfortable! Let the Holy Spirit do that work! Ignore the pattern of Scripture as demonstrated by all of the Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist (who wouldn’t baptize unless he saw evidence of repentance), the Lord Jesus, and the apostles, who all preached against specific sins, pleading with the lost to repent. Yes, for THEM to repent, and not wait for the Holy Spirit to zap them.

It’s ironic that fundies profess that they are the only branch of American Christendom that preaches hard, that preaches against sin, that preaches the “whole counsel of God.” The “hard preaching” is only from pulpit to pew. Yet Biblical “preaching” is for the lost! Out on the street! That’s where it counts. Within the church believers are to be “taught” the word of God. Fundies are apparently too cowardly to preach against sin when eyeball to eyeball with lost sinners. Besides, even within the church, fundies neglect the “whole counsel of God.” If they were faithful to Scripture, they would fire their paid clergy, establish oversight by elders within the church, get rid of the pulpit and pews, and embrace the New Testament pattern for churches established by the Lord Jesus Christ.

Why is it so tempting to neglect repentance when sharing the Gospel? Think about it. You’re preaching a hard thing. Repentance is HARD! To examine your life and see your beliefs and actions as WRONG and EVIL, deserving of JUDGMENT and HELL. When the evangelist describes repentance, he is not going to see many converts. Recall Ezekiel’s plea:

Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord God. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin. Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye. Ezekiel 18:30-32

Note who has the responsibility. Hey you . . . you turn, you repent, you make you a new heart and a new spirit. Can’t you hear God pleading with the lost to repent?!? But modern soul winners are much more sophisticated, apparently.

Some years ago I challenged a Senior Pastor of an IFB church I happened to run into outside a county courthouse. I told him that I had met many false converts who had professed Christ in his church, but were living in flagrant sin, not members of any church, but still claiming that they had eternal life because they “went forward and prayed the prayer.” When I told him that his repentance-less Romans Road method was the cause, he demanded that I tell him how I shared the Gospel. I did. He said, “Well, you’re never going to get many converts that way!” I agree. What he didn’t understand was that he wasn’t getting many converts either, but was producing many false converts – worse off than they were before, because they were now immune to the Gospel.

A couple of summers ago I visited a small IFB church in a small town. The one fellow I met who was serious about getting the Gospel out was about my age, and was solid in his belief that repentance is essential for salvation. When I asked him about his method, he described Romans Road / Sinner’s Prayer. I carefully explained the disconnect. He quickly understood and expressed chagrin and humility. He’d never been taught any other way to reach the lost, and had never thought about the contradictions. What a tragedy. Satan deludes church after church.

Why aren’t these issues examined? Why aren’t errors exposed and challenged? Satan has another cloud of delusion over ecclesiology – the study of how a church should be organized and how it should operate. The XYZ pastor is typical of fundies. He is the “man of God.” Even his #2 defers . . . even when the error is damnable heresy! The culture of pulpit to pew emasculates men in a church, who are expected, three times per week, to show up, shut up, and pay up. Meetings are scripted. Q and A is neither scheduled nor desired. If you have a doctrinal issue, ask the “man of God” – your own little pope. And when he gets it wrong, all 400 in the church get it wrong. That is precisely why the NT pattern for a church is to enjoy distributed leadership, a culture where members exhort and encourage one another, with everyone using their spiritual gifts, and if someone aspires to papal status, like Diotrephes (John’s 3rd epistle), the believers will put a stop to it.

How does this apply to you? Preach the word carefully, fervently, and Scripturally. Call out those who preach a false Gospel. Don’t support the Pope or any small-scale imitator. Have the guts to explain God’s law, sin, judgment, Hell, repentance, the Cross, the Resurrection, believing faith, the new birth, and a transformed life. Make it clear to the lost what he must do to be saved. Be alert if any respond. Befriend them, teach them, and love them. Let them show evidence to prove conversion. Test them to see if they will profess Christ. Don’t give them assurance of salvation. Assurance IS THE JOB of the Holy Spirit. It’s not yours.

– drdave@truthreallymatters.com

Appendix: The online Gospel presentation of XYZ Baptist Church

There are questions in life that trouble all of us. What happens when I die? Where will I spend eternity? The single most important question that you will ever answer is this – “If I were to die today, would I spend eternity in Heaven with God?” Your relationship to Jesus Christ is central to the answer to that question.

The Bible tells us in I John 5:12, “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life…” The simple truth is that God wants you to know where you’re going! So, here it is in a nutshell:

* First, you must understand your need for a personal Saviour. The Bible is very clear that we all have a huge problem called sin. Romans 3:23 says it this way, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” This verse simply means that none of us are perfect. Are you willing to admit that?

* The problem is this – sin has a high price tag. Romans 6:23a says, “For the wages of sin is death…” In other words, the price for sin is eternal death apart from God in a place called Hell – not a good thing! Because of our sin, none of us can make it into Heaven alone.

* Here’s the good news – God sent help! The rest of Romans 6:23 says, “…but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Again in Romans 5:8 God says, “But God commendeth His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us!” This leads us to the second step.

* You must believe that Jesus Christ wants to be your Saviour! Jesus Christ came to earth as God in the flesh, lived a perfect life, and then voluntarily died on a cross because He loves you. On that cross, He literally paid for all of your sins. He took your blame! He punished Himself for your wrong-doings. What a great gift!

* John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” God, in His awesome love, came to earth to make a way for you to be forgiven of your sins and given eternal life!

* Finally, you must place your full trust in Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” In verse ten of that same chapter, God says, “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” He says it’s as simple as believing and receiving! It’s as simple as asking!

If you’ve never asked Jesus Christ to be your personal Saviour, you could do that right now! With Him in your heart, life will make a lot more sense. You could stop right now and sincerely pray something like this:

Lord Jesus, I believe that You are God, that You died for my sin, and that You rose again from the dead. I know that I am a sinner, and I ask You now to be my personal Saviour. I’m placing my full trust in You alone, and I now accept Your gift of eternal life. Thank you for keeping Your promise! Amen.

You’ll never regret that decision! If you have just trusted Christ, we would love to know about your decision and give you a Bible and some other materials to help you learn more about that new relationship! Give us a call at xxx-xxx-xxxx and let us know today!

– end appendix

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