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Reformed. Christianity. Evangelism. Modern Culture.
William Franklin “Billy” Graham has featured several times in TIME magazine and will remain one of the most recognisable faces of the 21st Century. A spiritual adviser to multiple American presidents and an avatar of Christianity on the six o’clock news. Billy Graham is believed to have preached in person to more people around the world than any other Protestant in history. It is said that as of 1993, more than 2.5 million people had “stepped forward at his crusades to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour“. As of 2008, Graham’s lifetime audience, including radio and television broadcasts, topped the 2.2 billion mark.
“Accepting Christ” and “making a decision” for Christ are clichés sprinkled all over church notice boards and statistics spread sheets and missions reports. These ambiguous yet glossy sounding expressions should always be run and tested by the Word of God to see if they align with sound teaching and doctrine. The modern day gospel has moulted and produced yet astronomically illustrious results highlighting numerous “decisions made for Christ.”
But what did Jesus tell Nicodemus? What did He say about being born-again? He spoke of a work that only God can do by His Spirit during that tête-à-tête. How then can we number new converts at the end of a mere sermon? Who can know the heart of man and declare him converted?
“Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:7-8
Well, looking back through early church history there was no numbering of new converts or signing of decision cards or calls to say a “sinners prayers” but “the Lord added to their numbers day by day those who were saved.” (Acts 2:47)
Furthermore, my concern is if we are getting results and sensational figures, what gospel are we preaching? If we are preaching a different gospel from the one we were given then our efforts will have been in vain. If we place much credit on the decision of man and not enough on the Grace and initiative of God, there will be multitudes of numbers “making decisions” but sadly no fruits of the Spirit but extremely high apostasy rates as conversions. Catastrophically, there will be no difference between any other religion and the modern day gospel we bear; for we would have devised yet another way that man can curve to reach his god-the figurement of his imagination.
A very large, or a major denomination of the United States which has 11,500 churches throughout the US – in 1991, their first year of what they called “the decade of harvest,” they got 294,000 decisions for Christ. They found that only 14,000 remained in fellowship. That is, they couldn’t account for 279,000 of their decisions for Jesus. And this is normal modern evangelical statistics when it comes to crusades and local churches. -True and false Conversion, Ray Comfort
Charles G. Finney (1792-1875) was a preacher like no other. Modern day evangelism has been shaped by a great portion of his influence. Talk about decisions he knew how to help people make decisions. He introduced the most glorious of crutches to help see results-“The altar call”. The practice of urging men and women to make a physical movement at the conclusion of a meeting was introduced by Mr. Finney in the second decade of the nineteenth century. And hence the old adage “decision to walk” or “not to walk”.
This is not an attack on “the altar call.” No, not at all. For I am humble enough know that God is not limited and can even use a talking donkey or a brazen serpent to get a message a cross.
The counselling of “Decisional Regeneration” produces statistics that would encourage any Christian-until he follows up the so-called converts. In one heartbreaking experience forty “converts” of such counselling were contacted and only one person of these forty was found who appeared to be a Christian. One lady may have been reached, but what were the effects of the encounter on the other thirty-nine? Some of them may believe their eternal destinies were determined by their decisions, which is a fatal confidence if no change was wrought in their hearts and lives. –James E. Adams
Dr. Albert B. Dod, a professor of theology at Princeton Seminary at the time of Mr. Finney’s ministry, pointed out the newness of the practice and showed that this method was without historical precedent. In his review of Finney’s Lectures on Revival, Professor Dod stated that one will search the volumes of church history in vain for a single example of this practice before the 1820’s. Instead, history tells us that whenever the gospel was preached men were invited to Christ-not to decide at the end of a sermon whether or not to perform some physical action.
Folks, saying incantations or written prayers or walking down an aisle or putting up a hand or keeping your head bowed does not make you born again just like sleeping in garage doesn’t change you into convertible car.
Charles Spurgeon, also called the Prince of Preachers once said,
But I now do from my very soul call upon Thy name. Trembling, yet believing, I cast myself wholly upon Thee, O Lord. I trust the blood and righteousness of Thy dear Son…. Lord, save me tonight, for Jesus’ sake.’ ” “Go home alone trusting in Jesus. ‘I should like to go into the enquiry-room.’ I dare say you would, but we are not willing to pander to popular superstition. We fear that in those rooms men are warmed into a fictitious confidence. Very few of the supposed converts of enquiry-rooms turn out well. Go to your God at once, even where you now are. Cast yourself on Christ, at once, ere you stir an inch!
James E. Adams said that the apostles taught that God saves His elect through the foolishness of preaching. All new methods devised by man can only fall far short of this ordained means of converting the sinner. The Church must forsake its carnal inventions and once again be guided by the teaching of Scripture if it is to expect God to bless its efforts and multiply its harvest. The Scriptural means of evangelizing is to “preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (I Cor. 1:23-24).
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.” -Jeff Paton
It is said that A.W. Tozer, while on his way home from work at a tire company overheard a street preacher say: “If you don’t know how to be saved… just call on God.” Upon returning home, he climbed into the attic and heeded the preacher’s advice and did just that. Five years after his conversion, and without formal theological training, Tozer accepted an offer to pastor his first church. This began 44 years of ministry, associated with the Christian and Missionary Alliance.
” 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.” – A.W Tozer
How can a man be born again? How can a sinner who has broken the laws of God be made a new? How can he be saved? How can a grown man enter his mothers “tummy” again and be born a second time?
A couple of years ago, when I was in Primary school we had a lovely God fearing head teacher. And every Tuesday morning, we faithfully said communal prayers. The assembly meetings always ended with invitations to accept Christ into your heart as a young person so that your name would be written in heaven. And sure every week we “accepted baby Jesus into our hearts.” We sincerely repeated the words asking Him to come into our hearts week in and week out but lived like the devil for the rest of the week. There was no fruits of the Holy Spirit in our lives, no sign of regeneration and we blissfully carried on with our lives…in our sins. The lovely head mistress I guess never got tired of hearing us announce every week,“I got saved today…again!”
It was later in life that I realised what salvation is all about. Its not about acknowledging that your are a sinner. Its not even about accepting Christ in your heart. Its not even about saying a “sinners prayer” or filling a Decisions card. An acknowledgement of our sinful state is important, but it is different from Repentance. You dont hear much about Repentance these days or even the cross and why Jesus died. On him God placed your sin as he faced the Cup of God’s wrath; in exchange God imputes on you Jesus’ righteousness or goodness. The good news in all this is by grace your fine was then paid. 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. Only the Spirit of God can create a new man in Christ. God in His grace gives men new hearts. 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. Salvation is by Repentance and Faith in Jesus Christ. Then begins the new life of following Christ. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?”
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. -Jeff Paton
Charles Finney, the grandfather of “the altar call” and “decisional evangelism” sadly noted at the end of his days of ministry:
I was often instrumental in bringing Christians under great conviction, and into a state of temporary repentance and faith . . . . [But] falling short of urging them up to a point, where they would become so acquainted with Christ as to abide in Him, they would of course soon relapse into their former state.
B.B Warfield one of Finney’s contemporaries confirmed the catastrophic and embarrassing impasse when he lamented:
[pullquote]During ten years, hundreds, and perhaps thousands, were annually reported to be converted on all hands; but now it is admitted, that real converts are comparatively few. It is declared, even by [Finney] himself, that “the great body of them are a disgrace to religion.”[/pullquote]