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VON JEFF PATON
I can’t imagine the Lord of all creation, sitting upon His throne in heaven, wringing His hands saying," I hope that Suzy accepts me today!" "Oh, how I wish thatJohnny would make a decision to believe in me!" This is the image that many imply in their approach to evangelism. What they fail to see is that it is not God that needs our acceptance. We are the one’s that are in need of acceptance from God!
By making a brief review of the history of the Church during the past few centuries, we can see there have been some trends and shifts in Christian thinking. This is especially true in the realm of evangelism. Our evangelistic approach has gone from the open air, to tent revivals, and in this past century, to crusades in coliseums. During this time a new movement has risen that has developed the predominant way of presenting the gospel; it is called evangelicalism. Almost all of the prominent speakers and theologians of the past 50 years have been from, or adopted most of evangelicalism's views about salvation. In particular, the idea of "accepting Christ" and "making a decision" for Christ.
Most people have been taught to believe that this is the old time Gospel that has been preached for nearly 2,000 years. If we are to take an unbiased view of doctrinal history, we would find that these terms are a very recent phenomena. Strangely, the way we present the invitation to the Gospel today seems to be absent from the majority of Church history and the Scriptures themselves! Is it possible that we have we created a "new and different Gospel?" I believe we have.
I believe that our current methods have put us in danger of putting too much credit for salvation into the decision of man, and not enough upon the grace and initiative of God.
Christian theologians throughout history have normally emphasized the inability of man concerning his ability to save himself, and the necessity of the intervention of God in salvation. Because of mans’ fallen nature, it is necessary that God must intervene by graciously giving man the ability to believe and to respond. Modern Evangelicalism has taken the attitude that man can respond at any time they wish by a mere act of man’s will. This reduces the Gospel to a matter of a "decision" on the part of the individual, or a mere reciting of an incantation called the "Sinner’s Prayer." This current method of receiving salvation that is used in modern "Crusades" has substituted the conviction and witness of the Holy Spirit with group dynamics and professional salesmanship. You may wonder why I would say such a critical thing! It is because those who have followed up with respondents a year after their "decision" have found that the defection rate from Christianity among this group is a shocking 80-90%! The numbers touted to give legitimacy to these preachers and crusades sounds so impressive until we see they are creating more backsliders than believers! It should jolt us to see that more people were spiritually stillborn than born-again! This tragic rate of failure is due to the fact that many of these people were encouraged to respond to an altar in response to a sales pitch from man, and not from a call of God through a conviction of their sin from the Holy Spirit. Manipulation and salesmanship may yield large numbers of people coming forward and affirmative answers on prayer cards, but it cannot do what really counts, that is, "convert" the soul to Christ. This is solely the domain of the Holy Spirit.
Nowhere does the Bible tell unbelievers to make a decision for Christ. All of the appeals like "Choose you this day whom ye will serve" Joshua 24:15, are addressed to those who were in the family of Israel already, but were wavering on changing Gods. "God forbid that we should forsake the Lord, to serve other god’s." Verse 16. We are told in John 1:12 and 13 that _"as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God," and verse 13 clarifies that we do not give spiritual birth to ourselves, but our ability to receive Him is based upon, _"Which were born, not of blood, nor the will of the flesh, nor the will of man, but of God." It is clear in Scripture that man on his own cannot and will not desire to be reconciled to God. Romans 4:11 tells us, _"there is none that seeketh after God." We have been so thoroughlycorrupted through the fall of Adam that there is nothing within this infected nature of ours that will allow us to desire or seek a relationship with God. God must initiate the salvation process by reaching out to us first, convicting us, and convincing us of sin and of Jesus Christ. John 6:39 and 44 clearly state that "No man can come to me except the Father which hath sent Me draw him," and we may add, this spake He of the Spirit." The timing of His conviction is determined by _His will and not upon the will of a human vehicle like a preacher or a pastor.
If God were reaching out and convicting individuals 24 hours a day, we would not be told that _"there is none that seeketh after God."_ If we all felt this calling and conviction every day of our lives, we would feel that it was natural thing for man to seek God and to initiate his own salvation. If God were present in convicting power at every presentation of the Gospel, how do we explain that we do not witness the compliance and conversion for those who respond, and see the remainder who are rebellious, standing there resisting, white-knuckled and gripping the pew? By universal experience we know that we are not overwrought with conviction every time we have heard the Gospel message.
It is hard for us to understand why someone can hear the Gospel and not feel the least bit effected by it one time, and when it is presented at another time, it strikes conviction and is either accepted or knowingly rejected. At the times when there was no effect at all, we should realize that it is because it is not God’s will and timing for this person. To pressure for a "decision" at this point is nothing less than man’s manipulation and is not to be confused with God’s conviction. We run the risk of destroying the respondents hopes if they are declared "saved" when all they do is respond by just mechanically reciting a "sinners prayer." We can conclude this by saying that it is only if God is initiating salvation in an individual that they are called to respond, and at that time are they free to accept or reject the gracious offer. The timing of when this offer happens is up to the will of God. We are fooling ourselves if we think that we have anything to do in determining when and where God is to be working in the lives of individuals.
Some may pose the question, "Then are you saying that it was wrong for Peter to preach to the 3,000 on the day of Pentecost?" This is an overreaction to what has been said. I am not against large evangelistic efforts in any way. What I am against is a humanistic, and not a Scriptural means of presenting the Gospel. On the day of Pentecost we see that the Holy Spirit was at work in the individuals who cried out to Peter, "What shall we do?" Did he say, "make a decision for Christ!" Or, "Accept Him right now!" ? No! Peter’s answer to them was to "repent!" The very thing that is never preached at these crusades!
One thing that is for sure, it is impossible for someone to "decide" whether to believe. Either they believe or they do not! If there is anything that an individual is called upon to decide, it is whether they will obey or disobey that which has been revealed to them as true. When one is confronted with the Gospel, along with the clear conviction of the Spirit, they know, they cannot help but believe it is true. In that moment, they are responsible to decide whether they will repent and obey the call of God, or to refuse to cast their trust upon Christ, and choose hell. The Gospel calls those who believe to act upon this faith and repent. It is an issue of obedience and not just an assent to the fact that Jesus died for our sins. A.W. Tozer aptly said, " The whole ‘Accept Christ’ attitude is likely to be wrong, it makes Him stand hat-in-hand awaiting our verdict on Him, instead of our kneeling with troubled hearts awaiting His verdict on us. It may even permit us to accept Christ by an impulse of mind or emotions, painlessly, at no loss to our ego and no inconvenience to our usual way of life."
I know that all of what I have been saying is hard for many Christian workers to accept. We want to see people come to the truth and be saved. In our efforts, are we at times putting too much upon ourselves, and not enough upon God? Why have we abandoned the Scriptural means of salvation in favor of overly simplistic and flawed models of presenting the Gospel like, "The Four Spiritual Laws," the "Romans Road," the "Sinners Prayer." All of them are fundamentally flawed in that each of the call on us to "accept" or to "decide" upon Christ without ever calling the sinner to repentance. A mere acknowledgment that they are "sinners" seems sufficient for them. An acknowledgement of our sinful state is important, but it is different than repentance. One cannot come to Christ in hopes of His precious gift of life with the intent of remaining an enemy of God while refusing to let go of their sin.
The error that seems to be fueling this thing called Evangelicalism is that its approach is based upon the idea that salvation is a one-shot-of-faith-and-it-is-over theology. It makes salvation a crisis of deciding and accepting an immunization from hell, and leaves off the process of obedience and a beginning of a new walk in Christ as optional for the believer. This is not honorable to God, nor is it Scriptural!
How can we know if someone is saved? Do we say to the person who muttered the sinner’s prayer, "God said, ‘If you confess with your mouth and believe, you shall be saved!’ You have done this and you are now saved, regardless of what you feel! Believe God’s promise and not what you feel inside!" Is this Biblical? God said,
"The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God." Rom. 8:16.
"For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." Rom. 8:14
To compel someone to go against what they know is in their heart is mere humanistic psychology and wishful thinking. We are not doing God, or these people any favors by making declarations of salvation when it is the role of the Spirit to validate and convert a soul. The Spirit bears witness, not man, to the son-ship and salvation of the individual. If the Spirit is leading them, they will know it! The Scriptures promise it!
Decisional Regeneration is founded upon mysticism and humanism. It is humanistic in that it denies the corrupt nature of man, and in essence, it makes man sovereign over God in salvation. It relies on mysticism in that it teaches that a recitation of an incantation or prayer magically guarantees the acceptance of God apart from any evidence coming from God!
Now I am thankful for the 10-20% of those that that come forward in these crusades that actually do get saved. The expense involved in this evangelistic work is worth every penny because it results in saved souls. We however, cannot ignore the grave danger of jumping the gun and declaring the unregenerate to have been born-again when the witness of the Spirit has not confirmed it to the individual. When they try to walk the Christian walk without being born-again, or having the power of the indwelling Spirit, they will utterly fail. By their experience they will be convinced that "Christianity" is a failure because it did not work for them! This will cause them to go through their lives seeking salvation elsewhere, but not in Christ, because they have been convinced from their experience that this "religion" does not work. By giving the unregenerate a false hope of assurance of salvation, we will have successfully inoculated them from Christ forever!
Who can rightfully declare that a person is saved? A preacher or some man? Or the Holy Spirit? When a person is born-again they will know it! The Holy Spirit will dwell within them and be a witness to their hearts that they are a child of God.
The fruit of that salvation must accompany any declaration of salvation. Because Decisional Regeneration generally ignores repentance from sin, it implies that one has salvation while they are still in willful rebellion against God. This is an impossibility.
"Whoever is born of God doth not commit sin..." 1 John 3:9
"For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men. Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world..." Titus 2:11-12
Saving faith must include a willingness to abandon any rebellion towards God. One cannot trust in faith that their sins deserve hell, while inwardly refusing to turn from that sin. One cannot be in rebellion and faith at the same time. While we can give people hope that they can be saved by faith, it is an error to declare them saved apart from the witness of the Spirit, and the evidence of a changed life. When God regenerates a soul, the person is changed. If one continues on unchanged while declaring that they are "saved," they are deluded and deceived. Evangelists would be better served in stating that "If you have turned from your sin in faith towards Christ, He will change you from the inside out." "The Spirit will witness to you that you are a child of God, and He will give you victory over sin if you obey Him." Without this, one does not have the true evidence of salvation.
Luis Palau in Boise, Idaho The issue continued!