Updated June 1, 2006 (first published September 27, 2002) (David Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061, 866-295-4143, firstname.lastname@example.org) –
Any evangelist will have false converts. Even the Lord’s apostles did (Acts 8:20-21), but something is seriously wrong when only a very tiny percentage of one’s “converts” exhibit any evidence of salvation. This is exactly what we see, though, in large numbers of fundamental Baptist ministries. Hundreds, even thousands, of salvations are claimed, even though an extremely large percentage of these converts (up to 99%) demonstrate no biblical evidence that the Spirit of God has regenerated them.
Though no preacher or church can avoid false professions entirely, there are methods of soul winning that actually encourage the multiplication of false professions. In contrast, following are ways that we can avoid this harmful methodology.
1. DON’T BE HASTY; AVOID SHALLOW PRESENTATIONS OF THE GOSPEL.
Salvation involves understanding the gospel. Romans 6:17 describes salvation as obeying “from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.” Ephesians 1:13 says that salvation requires hearing “the word of truth.” Philippians 1:27 speaks of “the faith of the gospel.” 1 Timothy 2:4 describes salvation as coming to “the knowledge of the truth.” 2 Timothy 3:15 says we must become “wise unto salvation.”
These Scriptures remind us that the gospel has a definite doctrinal content that must be understood and believed. The recipient of the gospel must understand God’s holiness and justice. He must understand what sin is. He must understand the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ for the forgiveness of sin.
As missionaries in South Asia we have found that it ordinarily takes a considerable amount of time for heathen who have not grown up with any Bible knowledge to understand the gospel. It has to be presented to them carefully, simply, point by point, often over a period of weeks or months. There are occasions when a soul winner can confront someone for the first time and win them to Christ quickly, but that is usually because the individual has some background in Bible knowledge.
I believe in the Romans Road. The book of Romans is the clearest statement of the Gospel in the New Testament. In this epistle, Paul, by divine inspiration, lays out the Gospel point by point in the first four chapters. In Romans 1:15 Paul says, “So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also,” and that is exactly what he does in the next four chapters. But the real Romans Road begins with two and a half chapters on sin and God’s holiness and justice and wrath before it ever gets to describing what Jesus did on the cross and how the sinner can be justified by faith. Paul begins with 66 verses on the bad news of man’s lost and undone condition before he ever mentions the good news of God’s grace. The love of God is not mentioned until chapter five of Romans.
This is the real Romans Road plan of salvation.
I am not discounting the miracle power of God whereby a sinner gets saved the first time he hears a presentation of the gospel, such as the few who believed Paul’s message on Mars Hill in Athens (Acts 17:34). (Even in that situation, it is likely that those who believed heard much more from Paul after he departed from Mars Hill before they were actually saved.) The fact is that exceptions are not the rule. Even in the early days of the churches, when the power of God was so gloriously manifest, the gospel was presented carefully and often at great length. On the day of Pentecost, Peter preached not only the sermon we recorded in Acts 2:14-39, but “with many other words did he testify and exhort” (verse 40). Philip dealt at length with the Ethiopian eunuch before he was saved, because not only did he preach the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ and explain Old Testament prophecies, but he also dealt with baptism (Acts 8:35-36).
It is important that soul winners carefully present the gospel to sinners so they can understand the various truths sufficiently to know what they are doing. To quickly run through the basics of the gospel without ascertaining if the individual truly understands what the terms of the gospel mean is to invite empty professions of faith.
Take the doctrine of sin, for example. If you quickly run through the gospel with the average person and then ask, “Are you a sinner,” that person will often say, “Yes,” but by this, he does not necessarily mean that he is a wicked sinner like the Bible says. The average person today, even in North America, is ignorant of what sin really is from a biblical perspective. When Mr. or Mrs. Average North America thinks of sin, he thinks of having a lack of self-esteem or of having a few relatively minor shortcomings, etc. He does not think of himself as having been born in sin (Ps. 51:5) and as having a heart that is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9) and as having no true goodness or righteousness before God (Rom. 3:10, 12; Isa. 64:6); but this is precisely what the Bible says about each one of us. It is one thing to admit that “I am a sinner” and quite another thing to understand and acknowledge that one is a sinner in a biblical sense of being “a wretch” who has broken God’s laws continually and wickedly, that even our very righteousness before a holy God is like filthy rags.
The average person today thinks of himself as basically a good person. He will admit that he is not perfect, but he thinks he is pretty good. He doesn’t compare himself with a thrice holy God but with his neighbors. The spread of humanism and psychology has acerbated this problem. People have been taught that God is on their side no matter what, that they are valuable and lovable, that they should have great self-esteem. Psychology has undermined the biblical concept of sin.
In our ministry in a county jail, we were continually reminded that it is crucial to define gospel terms carefully. Many who came to our Bible studies told us that they had trusted Christ as their Savior, but when we dug a little deeper into their faith we found that they did not believe the Bible.
One woman told me that she was a Methodist and she knew Christ as her Savior. I asked if she believed she was a sinner, and she said that she did. I then read Jeremiah 17:9, which says the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; and I read Psalm 58:3, which says we go astray from the womb, speaking lies. In response she stated that she was not a sinner in that sense, that she was basically a good person and that she did not believe God would send her to Hell for her small “sins.” If I had not taken the time to define sin biblically, her false profession would not have been exposed and I would have accepted her as a genuine Christian.
Many of the gospel tracts commit this error. The writers of the tracts assume that their readers will understand gospel terms such as sin, grace, atonement, faith, and repentance; but this is not the case. Unless a person has been under the influence of sound Bible instruction, he will not understand any of these terms properly when he first hears them or sees them in a Bible verse. Most unsaved people think of sin merely as a few gross acts such as murder. Or they think it is a psychological problem. Or they think it is as intolerance or unkindness to animals or mistreating the environment.
The same is true for all of the points of the gospel. It is often necessary to take the person back to the book of Genesis, to the very beginning, so he will understand who God is and what man is and what sin is and where sin originated, etc.
We must be very careful to define gospel terms plainly from the Scriptures so people understand properly and so that when they acknowledge their sin and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ they are not doing so with false concepts in their minds. The Bible says we are saved by obeying from the heart “that form of doctrine which was delivered you” (Rom. 6:17). If a person believes a false concept of the gospel, he is not saved.
It takes some time to present the gospel carefully like this so the recipient can understand it and exercise a knowledgeable faith. In the book of Acts, we see Paul preaching and then taking aside those who were interested so that he could more carefully teach them. I believe this is what churches should do today. Home Bible studies are a good way to do this. As church members meet people who are interested in the Bible or the things of Christ, they can invite them to informal home Bible studies where the gospel can be carefully presented and where questions can be answered.
At Bible College I was taught NOT to answer most questions during soul winning situations. I was taught to stay with the three or four verses of the “Romans Road” plan and to say, “That is a good question and we will get back to it later, but right now I would like to show you…” I believe there is a time for that, if the question would truly side track the issue and if it is not necessary to answer it, but I also believe that there are many questions that need to be answered before the person can properly understand the gospel. The man that led me to Jesus Christ spent three or four entire days with me, patiently teaching me the Scriptures and answering the myriad of questions and arguments that I had, such as whether reincarnation is true or whether a man can follow his heart or why God would send people to hell who have never heard the gospel. If he had put off my questions in the manner in which I was taught at Bible College, he would not have gotten very far with me. My questions reflected what I believed at the time, and they needed to be answered biblically. The fact that he could give me Bible answers for questions I considered unanswerable impressed me greatly.
The reason such a large percentage of Scripture is dedicated to presenting the Law is to prepare the way for the gospel. The law is the schoolmaster that leads sinners to Christ (Gal. 3:24). The law shows man how holy God is and how sinful man is. Until a person understands his great guilt before God, he will not flee to Christ in a scriptural sense (Heb. 6:18). Preachers used to understand that the ground of the human heart must be plowed up with the law before it can bear the sweet fruit of the gospel, but everything is quick and shallow today.
Furthermore, people tend to interpret the gospel in light of their background. When a Roman Catholic first hears about being born again, for example, he thinks about baptism and other religious duties. When he hears about “receiving Christ,” he thinks that it is something that is done repeatedly through the sacraments. When he hears about sin, he thinks that there are different categories of sin and that only certain types of sin have eternal consequences. He might tell the soul winner that he understands these things, but in reality he doesn’t understand at all because of his previous false training.
This is why ecumenical evangelistic crusades are so insufficient. When Billy Graham or Luis Palau preach to Roman Catholics, they often preach a sound gospel message, but that message is interpreted wrongly by their Catholic hearers, and the ecumenical evangelists refuse to make things plain by preaching AGAINST false doctrine. To be understood, the truth must often be contrasted plainly with error.
A good course that carefully presents the gospel is called SALVATION BIBLE BASICS by Pastor Doug Hammett, Lehigh Valley Baptist Church, Emmaus, Pennsylvania [4702 Colebrook Ave., Emmaus, PA 18049, 610-965-4700 (church), DHammett@xc.org (e-mail)]. This consists of four lessons on salvation. A strong foundation is laid by defining sin from God’s perspective and helping the sinner to see his lost condition before God. In Lesson Four, Repentance and Faith are carefully explained. It is very unusual for an evangelistic Bible study course to go into repentance as thoroughly as this one does. A simple chart helps to illustrate the Bible truths.
In no wise am I saying that confrontational evangelism is wrong or that we should not seek to win people to Christ right where we find them if possible. If God is convicting the individual and if he understands the gospel and is ready to repent and believe nothing else is necessary. I am simply saying that one of the best ways to avoid false professions is to avoid shallow, insufficient presentations of the gospel. Even the most careful presentation of the gospel will not avoid all false professions, but it will greatly cut down on them in contrast to a shallow presentation.
2. EMPHASIZE TURNING TO THE LORD.
“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance” (Matt. 3:8).
“But showed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance” (Acts 26:20).
“And saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein” (Acts 14:15).
“And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead” (Acts 17:30,31).
“For they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thess. 1:9).
One thing that multiplies empty professions is the failure on the part of the soul winner to preach repentance. Ever since I was trained at a fundamental Baptist Bible School and worked in a large bus ministry in the mid-1970s, I have seen this failure. The soul winner gives the impression that by praying a sinner’s prayer one can assuredly go to heaven when he dies, but he does not explain clearly that a turning is required. One cannot turn TO Christ for salvation scripturally without also turning FROM his self-willed life. If we are facing one direction, we must have our back turned to a different direction.
It is not so much the word “repentance” itself that is important to get across; it is the concept. At its simplest, repentance means to turn, to change direction. That is what the soul winner must be careful to explain to the sinner. He must be ready to turn and to let God take control of his or her life. Salvation is not by works, but salvation definitely results in works. Repentance is to yield to God; it is a surrender.
Biblical repentance is a change of mind that results in a change of life. Some criticize the preaching of repentance as a “works salvation,” pretending that we are saying that the sinner must change his life in order to be saved. That is not what we are saying, because that is not what repentance is. It is a change of MIND that RESULTS IN a change of life. That is what Ephesians 2:8-10 teaches. Salvation is a free gift of God’s grace, but the true grace of God results in good works. See also Titus 2:11-12 -- “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.”
Repentance is not the same as faith, though they are intimately associated. If repentance and faith were the same thing, Paul would not have said that he preached “repentance toward God AND faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21).
It is true that repentance is not mentioned in the Gospel of John, but the virgin birth is also not mentioned there and we still preach the virgin birth. God has given us four Gospels of the life of Christ, not only one, and Matthew, Mark, and Luke have a strong emphasis on repentance. It is false teachers who isolate Scripture texts and preach only those parts that please them. John the Baptist, the Lord Jesus, and all of the apostles preached repentance and demanded evidence thereof (i.e., Paul in Acts 17:30; 26:18-20), and anyone who does not preach it is not following the Bible. In fact, repentance is a part of the Great Commission:
“And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, and said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And THAT repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:44-48).
Fundamental Baptists used to believe in and preach biblical repentance as a turning. Consider these examples:
“To repent literally means to have a change of mind or spirit toward God and toward sin. It means to turn from your sins, earnestly, with all your heart, and trust in Jesus Christ to save you. You can see, then, how the man who believes in Christ repents and the man who repents believes in Christ. The jailer repented when he turned from sin to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ” (John R. Rice, What Must I Do to Be Saved? 1940).
“We believe that Repentance and Faith are solemn obligations, and also inseparable graces, wrought in our souls by the quickening Spirit of God; thereby, being deeply convicted of our guilt, danger and helplessness, and of the way of salvation by Christ, we turn to God with unfeigned contrition, confession and supplication for mercy at the same time heartily receiving the Lord Jesus Christ and openly confessing Him as our only and all-sufficient Saviour” (Baptist Bible Fellowship, Articles of Faith, 1950).
“Repentance is a godly sorrow for sin. Repentance is a forsaking of sin. Real repentance is putting your trust in Jesus Christ so you will not live like that anymore. Repentance is permanent. It is a lifelong and an eternity-long experience. You will never love the devil again once you repent. You will never flirt with the devil as the habit of your life again once you get saved. You will never be happy living in sin; it will never satisfy; and the husks of the world will never fill your longing and hungering in your soul. Repentance is something a lot bigger than a lot of people think. It is absolutely essential if you go to heaven” (Lester Roloff, Repent or Perish, 1950s).
“The Greek words [for repentance] mean ‘a change of mind which results in a change of action.’ When that refers to man, there is a sorrow for sin involved. This definition is substantiated both by the scholarship of Trench and Thayer, as well as by the New Testament usage” (Bruce Lackey, Repentance Is More Than a Change of Mind; Dr. Lackey taught this in the early 1970s).
Something has changed in the last fifty years, though.
I went on visitation recently with a godly and sincere fundamental Baptist pastor, and three times in one afternoon he shared a 10-minute Romans Road plan (i.e., all have sinned against God, the wages of sin is death, and Jesus died for our sin and those who believe can be saved) and then immediately asked the people three questions: “Does that make sense to you?” (All of them said it made sense.) “Do you have any questions?” (None of them did.) And “Would you pray to receive Christ right now?” (None of them did.) The pastor didn’t even hint to the people that there would need to be a change in the direction of their life, a turning. Not a hint. How different this is from Paul’s address to the pagans on Mars Hill, in which he proclaimed that God “now commandeth all men every where to repent”!
This is not a pastor who is into the numbers racket or who is trying to impress some preacher’s fellowship. He is a man that I respect, a mature Christian leader who has been in the ministry for many years and who has taken a bold scriptural stand on some unpopular issues. I believe the problem is that he is simply following a program of soul winning that he has been taught and that is standard fare for a large percentage of fundamental Baptists.
Most people in America today are almost as Bible ignorant as the Hindus in South Asia. Most believe in evolution, and evolution is as far-fetched as any Hindu myth. If we tried to use such the aforementioned soul winning technique in South Asia, we could get half the people to pray a sinner’s prayer “so they could go to heaven one day.” But in the vast majority of cases, what they would be doing would be adding Jesus to their other gods, which is the first thing a Hindu usually tries to do with Jesus. It is quite another thing for the Hindu to turn to Jesus Christ ALONE as Lord and Savior and to turn FROM all of his other gods, as we see in 1 Thessalonians 1:9: “For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.”
The Bible principles of dealing with people are the same no matter where those people are found, and the Bible requires repentance.
When my wife and I first began our missionary work in South Asia in 1979, our landlord began coming to our house to have Bible studies. He was a wealthy middle-aged Hindu and had a concubine with whom he spent most of his time, though he was married and had grown children. After we went through the gospel a few times, he told me he felt that he understood what I was teaching and that he was interested in receiving Christ, but he wanted to know what he would have to do about two specific things in his life--his shady business practices and his illicit relationship with his concubine. I could have said, “Don’t worry about those things. Just pray to receive Christ and those things will work themselves out later”; but I don’t believe that is scriptural counsel. I don’t believe he could receive Christ and be saved unless he repented of his immorality and his dishonesty. Salvation requires yielding to God; it requires surrendering. The power to change one’s life is from God but the sinner must surrender to God’s working.
During the 15 years we have spent in South Asia, we could have gotten large numbers of people to pray a sinner’s prayer if that had been our objective. If we simply ask if they want to go to Heaven when they died and if they believe that Jesus died for their sins and if so would they pray a sinner’s prayer, a large percentage would repeat a prayer. They are accustomed to mantras and chants and rituals and would see the sinner’s prayer in the same light. If we urge them only to “believe” without dealing with repentance, we would have a multitude of unrepentant, “believing” Hindus on our hands--but believing in what? They eagerly believe that Jesus was a god, that he was good, and that he loves them. The love of Christ is attractive to a Hindu. It is very typical, though, that instead of turning to Christ exclusively as God and turning FROM their idols, they merely want to add Jesus to their other gods. We have found that this is almost always true in the early stages of dealing with Hindus, so we have learned to be very careful and to emphasize the necessity of repentance.
According to Jesus Christ, there is no salvation without repentance. “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:5).
It is therefore imperative to deal with people about their sin and about repentance, but we find another type of approach that has become popular among fundamental Baptists.
A church in Maine had a soul winning campaign a few years ago and the people were instructed to go house to house and ask the following question: “If I could tell you that you can go to heaven when you die and you won’t have to change anything, would you be interested?” I believe that type of methodology is heresy and deception. It is a lie to tell a sinner that he can go to heaven when he dies without changing anything. There must be a turning, a yielding, a surrender of the will to Almighty God. There must be a change of direction, a change of mind that leads to a change of life. We must tell people the same thing that the apostle Paul told them, that “they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance” (Acts 26:20). Anything less is an unscriptural program of evangelism.
Thomas Smith, pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church in St. Clair, Missouri, had a conversation once with another pastor who was committed to what I call “Quick Prayerism.” Pastor Smith said, “What if you were dealing with someone like Dennis Rodman [the professional basketball star who openly lives the most reprobate life] and you told him that he needs to receive Christ as his Saviour and he replied, ‘That is all well and good but I have no interest in changing my life,’ would you try to lead him in a sinners prayer anyway?” The other pastor replied, “Yes.”
This is definitely not what we see in Scripture.
When the Lord Jesus dealt with the rich young ruler who inquired about salvation, He did not tell him just to pray a prayer or just believe. He dealt with him plainly about his covetousness and pride and self-righteousness. The young man had to repent of such things before he could be saved. The Bible says that he went away sad because of his great riches (Lk. 18:18-24).
Consider also Christ’s dealings with the woman at the well in John 4. He faced her squarely with the immorality that had controlled her life.
This is the way God always deals with people, and it is the way we must deal with them, too, if we want to follow the Bible in our gospel work. To preach repentance means to deal with glaring sins that people are holding onto and to tell them plainly that they must repent of sinning against God; they must yield their lives to Him; they must change directions; they must surrender. God will do a new work in their lives but they must be ready for that to happen. They must have a change of mind about God and sin that will result in a change of life.
It appears that many soul-winning programs try to “slip the gospel by the sinner” and get him saved before he really knows what is happening! That is not possible. The Lord Jesus Christ said, “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3, 5). There is no salvation without repentance, and it is a Holy Spirit-wrought change of mind that results in a change of life.
To tell sinners that God demands that they repent will cut down on the “decision” statistics, but it is the only honest and scriptural path. God has commanded that they repent and Jesus said they can’t be saved without it, so how can we fail to tell them this?
3. AVOID MANIPULATING PEOPLE.
In the New Testament we don’t see the apostles manipulating people into being saved, but there are many manipulation techniques used in soul winning today.
First, there is PRESENTATION MANIPULATION.
For example, in the Andrew Fellowship Training Manual by Tom Sexton, soul winners are taught to cleverly lead people into praying a sinner’s prayer. After explaining how to give a simple plan of salvation to a sinner, a plan which does not even hint that there must be a turning or repentance, Sexton advises that the soul winner ask, “Do you believe that if you ask God to save you according to the Bible He will do it?” If the sinner answers yes, then he gives the following advice:
“The minute he says, ‘Yes,’ I say, ‘Let’s pray.’ … You bow your head and start praying, and he is going to bow his head. …
“‘With our heads bowed, let’s pray. Thank You, Lord, for the kindness and hospitality that _____ has shown. I thank You, Lord, that You are right here with us, and You have heard everything that’s been said.’
“The prospect is listening. He has never heard anybody pray this kind of prayer. First, he heard me thank the Lord for the kindness and hospitality that he has shown toward us. That means he is going to continue kindness and hospitality, right? [Brother Cloud: This is psychological manipulation.] Second, I have thanked the Lord that He is there and has heard everything that has been said.
“‘I thank You that _____ knows he needs to be saved, and, Lord, I thank You that he believes You can save him.’
“As I am praying for him, he is thinking, He’s praying for me! This is serious. [Brother Cloud: How does he know what this stranger is thinking? He might just as easily be thinking, “I hope this religious nut doesn’t take much longer; I am late to meet the guys at the bar.”]
“Then I pray, ‘Lord, I want You to give him the courage to do what You want him to do.’ …
“Now comes the invitation: ‘With our heads bowed and eyes closed, I want you to pretend that I have left the room. And I want you to pretend that my hand is the Lord’s hand. If you are willing to receive Christ as your personal Saviour, take my hand as though you were taking the Lord’s hand.’…
“He knows there is a need; he realizes that God wants to save him, and here is his opportunity. [Brother Cloud: Again, he is presuming something that easily might not be true.]
All he has to do is take my hand and trust Jesus. And he takes my hand. Then I say, ‘The Bible says, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” I’d like to lead you in a prayer, and you repeat it after me. God said He would hear it and save you.’
“‘Lord, I know that I am a sinner. I want You to forgive me. Come into my heart and save me and help me to live for You and to be a good Christian.’
“When you finish praying, thank God for your listener’s courage and his willingness to trust the Lord. [Brother Cloud: Again, he is presuming things about the person he cannot possibly know.]
Then ask some simple questions:
“‘When you prayed, did you pray to me or to the Lord?’
“If he says he prayed to the Lord, ask, ‘Is this promise in Romans 10:13 from me or from the Lord?’
“If he says it is from the Lord, ask, ‘According to the Bible, what did Jesus just do for you?’
“He should say, ‘He saved me’” (The Andrew Fellowship Training Manual, Murfreesboro: Sword of the Lord, 2000, pp. 74, 75).
Observe the psychological manipulation that goes on under the guise of soul winning. This course instructs the soul winner in how to manipulate an individual into bowing his head, into being hospitable, into praying a sinner’s prayer, and even into thinking that he is certainly saved.
Note that in the sinner’s prayer the person is told to pray to God to “live for You and to be a good Christian.” This is strange because in the presentation leading up to the prayer, nothing is said about changing one’s life. Not a hint. Now, all of the sudden, the soul winner has the sinner praying for God to help him be a good Christian. It is very manipulative, even deceptive. Again, it reminds me of an attempt to “sneak the gospel in” before the sinner knows what is happening!
Where do we see this type of thing in the Word of God? No wonder there are so many empty professions under such a system. And this is a very standard approach which is taught in dozens of major evangelism books and courses and which is used in thousands of churches. Can you imagine Paul doing this?
Second, there is INVITATION MANIPULATION.
These are manipulation techniques employed during the invitation in church meetings. At Bible school, we were taught “how to get them down the aisle.” For example, church members who were appointed to the task would automatically come forward during the invitation to produce a climate in which the sinner would think that others were coming and thus feel less threatened to come himself. I heard of a situation in which church members go to a bus visitor and tell them that so and so wants to talk with them down front, and once they are down the aisle they are urged to pray the sinner’s prayer. I believe these are forms of deception that have no part in the work of Jesus Christ.
Everything is designed to manipulate people into coming forward, praying a sinner’s prayer, and getting baptized.
The music can also be used to get people moving out of their seats. Some churches sing the invitation hymns at double the traditional time, so that an excited atmosphere is created to get people moving. Music is a powerful thing. Businesses use different types of music to manipulate people into buying more or moving more quickly through a restaurant, etc., but such man-made manipulation has no part in the work of the gospel.
Those who do these things justify them because they get more people down the aisle, but when you examine their converts, you usually find multitudes of false professions intermingled with the genuine ones.
Who needs the Holy Spirit when you have so many nifty tricks to get sinners down the aisle and into the baptistery! I am being facetious, of course, but I believe this is a serious matter.
It is not wrong or unwise to depend strictly upon the power of God and the Word of God, because there is absolutely no salvation apart from this. John warns us that the new birth does not come “by the will of the flesh” (John 1:13). When it comes to soul winning, man needs to get out of the way and let God work; and if God does not work, we had better not rush in and try to do something ourselves!
4. BE CAREFUL ABOUT GIVING ASSURANCE.
I have often cringed as I have observed a soul winner giving assurance to someone who has just prayed a sinner’s prayer, even when there was no evidence that the person was truly saved or that he was more than vaguely interested in what the soul winner was talking about.
What is wrong with assurance? Nothing is wrong with it, but it is only for those who are saved.
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:27, 28).
God promises eternal life to those who are born again, but He certainly does not promise eternal life to those who merely pray a sinner’s prayer. Verses 27 and 28 in John 10 are connected. Verse 28 says Christ gives eternal life to His sheep, but verse 27 says His sheep follow Him. Verse 27 is the evidence of salvation, while verse 28 is the eternal blessing of salvation. You cannot take the promise of verse 28 unless you display the evidence of verse 27.
“For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Romans 8:13,14).
The evidence of salvation is mortifying the deeds of the flesh and being led by the Spirit of God. Those who live after the flesh demonstrate that they have never been born again.
“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:1,2).
Those who are saved are those who keep the gospel in memory and who do not believe in vain. This is not the means of their salvation; it is the evidence of it. It is possible to “believe in vain,” meaning to “believe” something about Christ but without being saved. The people in John 2:23-25 believed on Jesus because of His miracles, but they were not saved and in John 6:66 they turned away from Him because they were offended at His teaching. In John 6:15 and 26 Jesus explains what happened with these people. They “believed” on Him not as their Lord and Saviour but as a worldly messiah to supply their needs and to defeat their enemies.
Consider also the following passage:
“And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled, In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister” (Colossians 1:21-23).
Those who are reconciled to Christ and who therefore have eternal life are those who continue in the faith and are not moved from the gospel. Those who exercise a mere prayer and who do not continue in the faith demonstrate that they have never been born again.
Consider also 2 Timothy 2:19:
“Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (2 Timothy 2:19).
Note that those who name the name of Christ prove that they belong to the Lord because they depart from iniquity.
Consider also Hebrews 3:6:
“But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end” (Hebrews 3:6).
This verse says that we are saved if we hold fast the confidence of our hope to the end. Note the exact wording. The verse DOES NOT say that we WILL BE saved if we hold our hope to the end; it says we ARE saved if we hold our hope to the end. In other words, the holding out is the evidence of our salvation, not the cause. We do not keep our salvation by holding onto faith in Christ; we prove thereby that we possess salvation.
Consider also Hebrews 3:14:
“For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end” (Hebrews 3:14).
This verse teaches the same thing as Hebrews 3:6. The holding of our confidence in Christ to the end proves that we were truly saved. Those who turn away from faith in Christ prove that they never were saved.
Consider Hebrews 6:9-11:
“But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak. For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have showed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister. And we desire that every one of you do show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end” (Hebrews 6:9-11).
Note that there are “things that accompany salvation.” An empty profession is not biblical salvation, and those who have an empty profession, who do not care about the things of God, do not have eternal life no matter how many prayers they have prayed or how many times they have been baptized and no matter who has given them assurance. True salvation is accompanied by works and labours of love. Hebrews 6:11 reminds us that full assurance is only for those who evidence that they have been born again.
Consider Hebrews 10:38:
“Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him” (Hebrews 10:38).
This verse plainly states that those who do not evidence salvation, those who draw back from Christ, are not saved.
Consider 1 John 3:2-3:
“Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (1 John 3:2,3).
Verse 1 tells us that those who are born of God have eternal life and will be like Christ in Glory. Verse 2 goes on to warn that those who are truly born of God purify their lives. The purifying is not the means of their salvation; it is the evidence of their salvation.
All of these verses teach that we must be careful about giving assurance of salvation to those who have merely prayed a prayer. We can tell them that IF they have repented toward God and exercised faith toward Christ they have eternal life, but if they have merely prayed a prayer, they are still lost in their sins. To tell a person dogmatically that he has been saved and now has eternal life when we do not know if he has been truly saved is unscriptural and harmful.
The Bible gives us many examples of those who were interested in the things of God and who served God in various capacities and who appeared to be saved but were not. Judas is a prime example of this. Those in Matthew 7:21-23 who prayed “lord lord” and who did many wonderful works were not saved. The Jews mentioned in Romans 10 had a great zeal for God but they were not saved. The false teachers of 2 Peter chapter 2 professed Christ but were not saved. Those mentioned in Titus 1:16 professed that they knew God but they were not saved.
A sinner can have many false motives for calling upon the Lord other than for genuine Bible salvation. He can call upon the Lord because He wants help with some problem in his life, or because he wants to go to heaven when he dies (though he has no intent to know or serve God in this life), or because he thinks that the sinner’s prayer is another of the many religious things he must accomplish in order to be saved eventually, etc.
It is one thing to tell a person that he can have assurance from God and from the Scriptures if he is truly saved; it is quite another thing for the soul winner to give a stranger assurance and promise him a home in heaven simply because he has prayed a sinner’s prayer. Yes, Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved,” but that verse cannot be isolated from the rest of that passage and from the rest of the book of Romans and from the rest of the Bible. It must be a certain kind of calling upon the Lord, a calling that is based in sound repentance toward God and proper faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ.
In the final analysis, giving assurance to a sinner is not the soul winner’s job; it is the job of the Holy Spirit and He accomplishes this through God’s Word. “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Rom. 8:15-16).
5. DON’T CONFUSE INTEREST IN THE GOSPEL WITH SALVATION.
After a long dry spell of talking to people who are completely disinterested or even belligerent, it is refreshing to come upon someone who shows some interest in the gospel. It is important, though, not to confuse interest with true conviction or to confuse a willingness to pray a sinner’s prayer with repentance and faith.
Multitudes of people were interested in Christ at one point in His earthly ministry, but the time soon came when most of them abandoned Him (John 6:66). Peter, on the other hand, had the testimony and evidence of a truly saved person. “Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:68-69).
The bottom line is that genuine salvation will always be accompanied by biblical evidence (Heb. 6:9; 2 Cor. 5:17; 1 John 2:4).
6. GUARD THE ORDINANCE OF BAPTISM.
Another way to avoid false professions is for a church to be very careful about baptism. The practice of quickly baptizing people who come forward to pray a sinner’s prayer without trying to ascertain whether or not they have been born again and whether or not they understand what they are doing results in the multiplication of false professions.
“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance” (Matt. 3:7-8).
Baptism is not for those who want to salve their conscience with a mere religious ritual; it is the public testimony of saving faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The church should require the following two things for baptism, and by doing so it guards the ordinance from false professions.
The church must require salvation. It is true that in the book of Acts we see examples of people being baptized immediately after they professed Christ, but in every case the conversion was very plain and dramatic and the evidence of repentance was clear. Consider those who professed Christ on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. They were possibly baptized that same day, but note that they “gladly received his word” and that they “continued steadfastly” in the things of God. These were dramatic and evident conversions. The same is true for the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. The eunuch himself requested baptism and evidenced a dramatic conversion. The same is true for Saul in Acts 9. He was baptized in verse 18 soon after his conversion, but his conversion had been dramatic and apparent. The same is true for Cornelius and his household in Acts 10 and for Lydia and her household and for the Philippian jailer in Acts 16 and for Crispus and his household in Acts 18. In each of these cases, the conversion was dramatic and plain and there was plenty of evidence of repentance and faith.
This is not what we find in many churches today. It is not uncommon that hundreds, even thousands, of people are baptized each year, but only a few of them evidence the type of genuine conversion and repentance we see in the book of Acts. It is no wonder that in such churches it is very common that the ordinance of baptism becomes a mere ritual, an almost boring routine. The congregation, by its attitude, appears to understand that few of the conversions are genuine, and there is a careless atmosphere toward the baptisms. Few people even say “Amen.” In some churches the choir members do not even turn around and watch! Ho-hum; let’s get this ritual over. The entire atmosphere changes, though, when someone is baptized who has undergone an obvious conversion. If it is someone the church members have known and prayed for or if it is otherwise evident that a real repentance has been wrought, there are enthusiastic “Amens,” even shouting and tears. This is as it should be. Baptism is not for unsaved people, and churches have no authority to baptize people unless they give some evidence of salvation.
More than once I have heard baptismal candidates asked, “Have you trusted Jesus Christ as your Saviour,” only to have them give an uncertain reply such as, “I don’t know for sure” or “I think so.” Yet, these people were baptized anyway! Baptism is a very important ordinance of the church and it should not be cheapened in this manner by baptizing people who do not give plain evidence of conversion.
The church must require knowledge. The other requirement for baptism is knowledge of what baptism is. If a person is baptized without understanding, it becomes a mere empty ritual. We have followed up on several people who have been baptized in quick prayerism churches and have found that it is not uncommon that they do not understand what they did.
One reason many are baptized before they are truly saved and before they understand baptism is that the process is pushed through so quickly that there is not sufficient opportunity for the individual to come to a proper understanding of what is happening. It is not uncommon that the person will be “led to the Lord” and instructed in baptism, all in ten or fifteen minutes in front of the church on a Sunday morning. I have never understood why a church would want to create such a high-pressure situation. Why not take the seekers aside and carefully go through salvation and baptism and make sure that they know what they are doing, that they are truly converted, and that they understand the significance of their baptism?
What is the rush? I agree that we must hurry to make sinners know that today is the day of salvation and that there might not be an opportunity to be saved tomorrow, but why should we rush the process of baptism? What is the motive that creates a high-pressure atmosphere that leads to the multiplication of false professions?
7. MAINTAIN THE BIBLE STANDARD FOR CHURCH MEMBERSHIP.
A final way to avoid the multiplication of false professions is to guard the door to church membership.
“Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:41,42).
The standard for church membership, as demonstrated by the example of the first church at Jerusalem, is repentance and faith (verse 38), evidenced by the glad reception of God’s Word (verse 31) and a commitment to the church of God (verse 42). Church membership is seriously cheapened when people are brought into the body apart from this standard, when people are made church members by a mere prayer with no evidence whatsoever that they have truly been born again or that they have any intention to be committed to the things of Christ in the church.
Furthermore, when people are made church members merely upon a profession and no effort is made to ascertain whether there is genuine repentance and faith, the church is weakened by the inclusion of unsaved people within the membership. Also, there is no means of practicing church discipline.
I was reminded of the seriousness of this a few years ago. My wife met a lady who has had four illegitimate children in the past few years and had lived a reprobate life, yet she happily told my wife that she is a member of a certain fundamental Baptist church. “When did you become a member of this church?” my wife asked. “Years ago,” she replied.
In one city we met a Mormon who was also a member of a large fundamental Baptist church. How can this be? The fact is that baptism and church membership become meaningless in the context of quick prayerism because the reality of people’s faith is not tested and church discipline is rarely practiced.
Brethren, these things ought not to be.
8. BE CAREFUL ABOUT TERMINOLOGY.
Since there are so many empty professions today, perhaps it is best to use different terminology. Instead of saying, “20 people got saved yesterday,” we could say, “20 people professed Christ yesterday.” That way, at least we are not making false claims.
9. BE PATIENT, DEPENDING UPON GOD TO PERFORM THE MIRACLE OF SALVATION.
Instead of hastily getting people to pray a sinner’s prayer if they show any interest whatsoever in the things of God and manipulating them with the promise of a free ticket to Heaven (there is no example in the Bible of an evangelist mentioning Heaven while preaching the gospel), we need to follow the Bible pattern and wait upon God’s miracle-working power to be evident in the person’s life through conviction of sin and repentance toward God. Salvation is a miracle of God, and all the prayers in the world will not produce even one salvation apart from God’s miracle-working power.
“When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18).
“And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul” (Acts 16:14).
“In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:25).
The soul winner’s job is to preach the gospel, but it is not his job to save anyone. Only God can save a soul. The soul winner is looking for God’s saving power to be manifest in the sinner, as it was in Lydia when the Lord opened her heart toward the things of Christ and as it was in Cornelius and his household (Acts 11:14-18).
I am not a Calvinist of any sort; I am a Biblicist. I do not have to make a commitment to any man’s systematic theology; my sole authority is the Bible. And while the Bible tells me that salvation is wholly of God (Jonah 2:9; John 1:13), it also tells me that salvation was purchased for every man (1 John 2:2), is offered to every man (Rev. 22:17), and can be rejected by man (Matt. 23:37).
Yet though I am not a Calvinist, I like the Calvinist’s exaltation of and emphasis on God more than the man-centered type of evangelism commonly practiced by those who run around getting multitudes of empty professions and who act like (because of their methodology) men can save themselves by merely praying a prayer apart from repentance and faith.