“I know a fellow in Texas who, when he got converted, couldn’t even spell Jesus. The first year he won 169 to Jesus. He picked up a hitchhiker and tried to witness to him. The hitchhiker shook his head. He then talked real loud, but the hitchhiker pointed to his ears and shook his head. So this new convert started writing the Gospel out and the hitchhiker pointed down and shook his head. He couldn’t read, he couldn’t hear, he couldn’t talk. So this soul winner, who went to the third grade and couldn’t even spell Jesus, stopped the car and got out, took his Bible, pointed to the Bible, pointed to his heart, pointed to Heaven, made a motion to open your heart and let Him come in, got on his knees and began to pray. The deaf and dumb fellow got on his knees and mumbled a bit, got up with a smile of Heaven on his face, pointed to the Bible, pointed to Heaven and pointed to his heart.”
This is not only ridiculous; it is frightful; it is shocking in its biblical ignorance. There is no example in Scripture of someone getting saved without understanding the gospel of Jesus Christ.
John Rice argued that it is better to have 500 professions with 250 of those being genuine than to have 15 professions with 13 or 14 genuine. “But suppose it were true that out of a church that baptized over five hundred converts in a year ... only 250 of the 500 were actually saved. Wouldn’t that be better than a church that had fifteen professions of faith and perhaps one or two of them were not saved?” Wouldn’t you rather 250 people go to Heaven than thirteen or fourteen?” (I Am a Fundamentalist, pp. 227, 228).
This is not biblical thinking; it is human pragmatism.
First, the number of genuine converts at the “biggest and greatest” churches that Dr. Rice promoted in the Sword of the Lord, such as First Baptist of Hammond and Highland Park of Chattanooga, did not add up to anything close to half of the professions. For example, Jack Hyles claimed that on May 3, 1998, 15,000 people were saved and 5,112 were baptized. A preacher friend was there and observed busloads of children from Chicago ghettos being baptized after a five-minute Romans Road presentation. Another pastor who participated that day as a Hyles-Anderson student said, “At the invitation, all the people were instructed to repeat the sinner’s prayer after the preacher. From the pulpit, instructions were given to the workers to herd their charges toward the swimming pools for baptism” (Tom Brennan, Schizophrenic: A Diagnosis of the Independent Baptist Movement, p. 206). (See “Pentecost vs. Hylescost,” www.wayoflife.org.) Hyles claimed that three-quarters of a million were saved at Hammond under his ministry. A preacher friend who visited a mid-week service at First Baptist on March 14, 2012, told me that there were no more than a few hundred in attendance. So after allegedly winning three quarters of a million people to Christ, the church’s faithful members could be counted in the mere hundreds ten years after his death. At Highland Park Baptist in Chattanooga, there were 63,000 baptisms during Dr. Lee Roberson’s 40-year pastorate, not counting the professions of faith (James Wigton, Lee Roberson: Always about His Father’s Business, p. 158). If 63,000 people were truly saved during those years, Highland Park Baptist Church would have been twenty times the size it was, and the moral climate of that part of the country would have been dramatically changed, but it wasn’t. In fact, the moral climate of Highland Park deteriorated shockingly. “A fashionable, up-scale area of the city when Lee Roberson arrived in 1942, by the time he retired it had digressed into a typical ghetto-type area--with drugs, prostitution, and crime” (Wigton, p. 303). I was educated at Tennessee Temple in the 1970s and worked in the bus ministry and pastored one the Highland Park chapels, and I would estimate that less than 5% of the professions that were reported were real conversions. It wasn’t anything like 50%.
Second, the practice of getting a lot of empty professions produces a bitter harvest. It leaves multitudes of people with a false hope of salvation (because they prayed a sinner’s prayer and were given “assurance” by a soul winner). It leaves them almost inoculated to true salvation. When you try to talk with these people about salvation, they say, “I have done that.” And it creates confusion throughout the community. The whole region around Chattanooga, Tennessee, in the 1970s was filled with people who had prayed a sinner’s prayer and had even been baptized at Highland Park as empty rituals. The same was true in the whole region of Hammond, Indiana. This gives people the idea that Bible salvation means nothing of any real substance. Witnessing the bitter fruit of Quick Prayerism is what motivated me to write the book Does Salvation Make A Difference? in 1981. (It is available as a free eBook from www.wayoflife.org.)
Third, we are not told to get professions; we are told to preach the gospel to every person and to look for the supernatural work of the Spirit in enlightenment, conviction, and conversion. Salvation is God’s work, not man’s. Man preaches and prays, but God saves, and until God saves, there is absolutely nothing more we can do. Dr Rice always insinuated that if a man pastors a small church it is because he is not a real soul winner. In some cases it is true that a church is small because of lack of evangelistic vision and zeal. But in other cases the church is small because there simply aren’t many true converts in spite of a lot of evangelistic labor. We can’t create converts. Lee Roberson actually required that someone be brought down the aisle for salvation and baptized in every service (Wigton, Lee Roberson, pP. 125, 183, 270), but that is an impossible goal except by human manipulation. Even if an individual spends 12 hours a day, every day of the week, he can’t be sure that someone will be born again and ready for baptism at the end of that week. In some places the soil is much harder than in others. The farmer can and should work hard, but only the Lord of the harvest can bring forth real fruit. I think of a pastor friend who started churches in multiple places with good growth and success. Then he moved to a city in Maine and had extremely little fruit, though he had good helpers and a building in a nice location. He told me it was like “breaking granite with a hammer.” The same man, putting forth the same evangelistic effort, had very, very much less fruit in that new place.
Fourth, Dr. Rice was right in condemning churches that are content to be small and aren’t zealous for evangelism and growth. He described a church with a “sterile, funeral-like atmosphere” that has “only a few old-timers, small crowds and nobody saved much but a few children in the junior department from the main families” (I Am A Fundamentalist, p. 228). I have seen many such churches that lack vision and zeal for growth, that are content to be lukewarm and fruitless, and they are depressing.
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