After publishing “Correspondence with a Missionary about Quick Prayerism” (Nov. 6, 2019), I received the following question (which has been edited for publication). We will follow this with my reply to this question, which is expanded from the one I sent to him.
Bro. Cloud -
I am an Independent Baptist who has zero use for easy believism, or any other form of tricking people into a prayer. I also believe you are God’s man and I am inquiring and not rebuking you in this email. I enjoy reading your material and think you are incredibly smart as well as wise. I am not a preacher, but simply a business man who reads these daily devotions.
My questions are relatively simple minded and I realize this. I also recognize or get the impression these two ladies might have been Catholic which definitely makes this case different than a traditional lost person and their possible prior belief system.
It just seems like you are taking away the idea that people can’t still come to an old fashion altar (I’m from the Bible Belt which my verbiage will clearly represent) and be under Holy Ghost conviction and be Saved on the spot. When I got Saved 23 years ago when I was in my teens, I couldn’t wait for the special singing to stop. I jumped up and got to the altar as quickly as possible under conviction for my sin and repented and asked Christ to Save me. I don’t remember if I understood those multiple things you laid out that a person has to know. I just knew I was lost, condemned by sin, and on my way to hell. I did understand that repentance was turning from sin to Christ, but I didn’t know everything you laid out. Am I lost because I didn’t go through that program you laid out? My life changed and has been changed since that day and I am now 42 years old and gloriously Saved. The thief on the Cross didn’t have time for off-site training, he just asked the Lord to remember him and it was enough. It just seems to me that we are going from one extreme to the other almost making it hard for someone to be led to the Lord. Some things come with growth and discipleship after being Saved. I realize one must understand repentance that Christ is the only way to heaven. The Lord didn’t send the thousands home to set up a meeting on the day of Pentecost. They heard solid Bible preaching and it did the job.
I guess I am simply asking this, do you still or have you ever believed that people do simply come to the altar a sinner and leave a Saved person? It just seems harder than it should be when I read your correspondence with your missionary friend. I don’t agree with the easy 1,2,3, repeat after me deals, but I also do not believe God wants it to be hard to come to know Him.
I also realize there are way too many false professions being pulled out of people making them two fold children of hell. I am NOT for the Hyles crowd or anyone like them in their form of soul winning. I just think an old fashion altar with a man under conviction is still a place where people can be Saved.
To put people off when God is conveying them to be Saved right now seems odd or backwards to me. To ask them to let you visit them at home in a couple of days almost sounds like changing God’s course of direction at that very moment. Isn’t today the day of Salvation?
I am dead against the emails you receive with people showing you utter disrespect for your stand on different issues such as singing. I don’t even agree with you on a few matters, but I do respect and love you as God’s man.
REPLY FROM BROTHER CLOUD:
Thank you for taking the time to write. I’m sure that is a common question.
The bottom line is that you can’t be saved unless you understand the gospel, repentance, and saving faith. That’s what the Spirit of God uses to bring men to saving faith. Salvation is 100% the work of the Spirit of God, but it doesn’t happen without those things.
The Lord Himself taught us to preach the gospel to every creature and plainly stated that only those who believe the gospel can be saved (Mark 16:15). He also emphasized that no one is saved without repentance (Lu. 13:3, 5). Paul plainly stated that it is the gospel that is the power of God unto salvation (Ro. 1:16), and He gave us the content of the gospel in Romans 1-3; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, etc.
How long does it take for people to be saved? It takes as long as it takes. God does the saving. If it takes an hour in the Bible belt with a person who already has a good background in those things, then it takes an hour. If it takes weeks, then it takes weeks. If it takes months, then it takes months.
There are all sorts of salvation experiences recorded in Scripture, and no one of them is the pattern. There is no one soul winning program in Scripture. There is no program! Each individual was dealt with in a different manner, and we need to follow this example and to learn to deal with people as individuals and not as robots.
How long did Philip spend with the Ethiopian eunuch? We don’t know. How long did Paul spend with Lydia? We don’t know. How much had Paul and Silas taught the Philippian jailer before he cried out “What must I do to be saved?” We don’t know.
The thief on the cross is an exception, not an example. If we want to know how to deal with souls about salvation, we don’t go to Luke 23.
On the day of Pentecost, Peter was preaching to Jews who knew the Old Testament and therefore had a foundation for understanding the true God, man’s fall, sin, God’s holiness and justice, Christ, and redemption through a substitute. This would be similar to preaching a gospel meeting in the “Bible Belt” in former days. (Today the Bible Belt is filled to the brim with apostate Baptist churches and people who are nearly as biblically ignorant as Hindus in India/Nepal or Buddhists in Thailand.) But even on Pentecost, Peter used “many other words” to deal with those people (Acts 2:40). We don’t know how long they were dealt with.
And don’t forget that we are talking about Pentecost! The coming of the Spirit of God! It was a special day that has never been repeated in church history. Soul saving power was operating at its peak!
If a fundamental Baptist today sees 3,000 saved in one day so that those 3,000 gladly receive the Word and continue steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, I will be happy to say that he is doing things right! But where is that man? Jack Hyles claimed that more than 15,000 people were saved on May 3, 1998, but he was a very big exaggerator. After that special day, he didn’t have to try to find expanded space for seating in his church, because the vast majority those 15,000 were nowhere to be found.
You mention your own case, but that is a case of a person in a Baptist church who already knows the gospel and knows that he has to repent and believe in Christ. That has nothing to do with the case that I was addressing in “Correspondence with a Missionary about Quick Prayerism,” which pertains to Roman Catholics attending a Baptist church for the first time and knowing nothing previously about the true gospel, repentance, and saving faith.
In your case, the fruit shows that you got saved, the fruit being getting baptized and loving God’s Word and obeying God continuing in faith in Christ. But it would be a strange thing, biblically, to say that you had zero understanding of the gospel when you got saved.
No one’s experience is the authority for how we are to deal with souls. We get our instruction from the Bible, and from the Bible alone. Otherwise, we are no better than the charismatic who trusts his experience to determine whether he is right with God.
Many people have been saved at a church “altar,” but I am reminded of the countless, countless false professions that have been made at Bible Belt altars--hasty, emotional, ignorant, non-repentant decisions, decisions that didn’t last two weeks, let alone a lifetime. I know about this. I grew up in a Baptist church in the Bible Belt. All of the kids that I grew up with made professions of faith at an altar, but I don’t know of even one person that actually got saved then among the Baptist young people I grew up with, if there is such a thing as biblical evidence. I have known of the same thing in a massive number of churches. I have personally communicated with hundreds of people on this subject over the years.
The altar invitation system (having sinners come forward and dealing with them for a few minutes during the service itself and pronouncing them saved right there) tends toward haste by its very nature and has resulted in countless false professions. We need to be Bereans and continually re-think our traditions biblically (Acts 17:11), but in my observation, the average fundamental Baptist is as tradition-bound as an Episcopalian.
I personally witnessed hundreds of false professions produced by this program at Highland Park Baptist Church in the 1970s. I worked in the bus ministry and in the chapel ministry and pastored one of their chapels. There were 63,000 baptisms at Highland Park during Dr. Lee Roberson’s 40-year pastorate (James Wigton, Lee Roberson: Always about His Father’s Business, p. 158). (The number of professions was vastly larger.) If 63,000 people were truly saved during those years, the moral climate of that part of the country would have been dramatically changed, but it wasn’t. In fact, the culture of Chattanooga and the surrounding area grew dramatically more wicked over the decades of the church’s ministry. As for the area of Highland Park itself, it 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). Yet a huge number of people in Highland Park had professed Christ and been baptized at the church.
Someone being born again quickly is becoming exceedingly rare even in America. Most people today are grossly Bible ignorant, even in the South (the “Bible Belt”). As I said, I grew up in a Baptist church in the South, but the man who led me to Christ spent four days teaching me the Word of God and answering my foolish questions when I got saved at age 23. I hadn’t been in church for many years and had journeyed far from my childhood teaching and was steeped in New Age philosophy. I’m so very glad that he didn’t try to use the “Romans Road, pray the sinner’s prayer” program.
We have worked with Hindus for 30 years. I have never heard of a Hindu with no background in the Bible getting saved quickly. It didn’t happen under William Carey’s ministry, and it isn’t happening today. In our experience, it takes an average of working with them for several months, often much more after they become interested enough to listen to the gospel. A few years ago I had the men in our church figure out how long it was from the time they started attending church or a Bible study and learning about Christ until they were saved, and the average was a year.
If there is someone who is seeing Hindus and Buddhists saved quickly and truly, with lasting biblical fruit, more power to him, but I don’t know of such a thing.
The man I communicated with in “Correspondence with a Missionary about Quick Prayerism” works in a Roman Catholic country. Roman Catholics do not know the gospel; they know only a false gospel; and when they first hear the gospel, they tend to interpret it in terms of their false gospel.
We need to spend enough time with people to know what they are thinking and how they are interpreting the words we are speaking. We can and should tell people that they need to get saved today before it is too late, and we do, but a lot of the pressure in this business is manmade and destructive.
All I know is that we must teach the gospel, teach repentance, teach saving faith, instruct sinners to turn to Christ, and watch for God’s saving hand. And when God saves there will be clear evidence.
We do teach sinners to call on the Lord for salvation. We do teach them to respond to Christ’s invitation in Matthew 11:28-30. We don’t put people off when they want to get saved, but we do try to ascertain if they are biblically ready. It would be criminal on our part not to do this. To pronounce people saved and to baptize them and receive them as church members when they aren’t actually saved is damaging to them and to the church.
These days I’m going through the gospel with a medical doctor. I constantly urge him to go to Christ for salvation. I am not trying to hold anyone back. Far from it! We just want people to be saved, really saved!
I will say this, too. We are seeing a lot of people truly saved and we have very, very few false professions. The vast majority of our professions go on for the Lord. I’m talking about way more than 90%.
In fact, I don’t know of many churches that are seeing more people genuinely saved than we are, and they are being saved out of the grossest darkness you can imagine.
I am talking about real, supernatural, born again, life-changing conversions. We have had about 15 “turn around and go the other way” adult conversions in the last year. All were saved out of pagan religion; all had to go against relatives and society at large and endure persecution for their faith. Some were addicted to drugs and alcohol and have had dramatic deliverance. We have seen a lot of demon possessed people saved. One of those graduated from our Bible college three years ago and is a full-time preacher today. I’m talking about “they turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” salvations!
We are building churches through salvations. Ninety percent of our church members are our own converts and do not come from other churches.
Recently I heard an evangelist in Ohio say that 127 people had been “saved” in some kind of tent ministry this last summer. I hope so, but from long experience with this type of report, I would need to ask if those 127 souls are going on for the Lord before I would put any credence in it. There is nothing whatsoever wrong with such a question.
I would far rather have five true conversions than 500 empty professions, and a great many Baptist churches today aren’t seeing even one real adult conversion a year, regardless of how many “salvations” they count.
The Southern Baptist Convention has been called “unregenerate” by one of its own evangelists. In 2005, SBC evangelist Jim Elliff said, “Our denomination, as much as we love it, is on the main, unregenerate” (www.ccwonline.org/sbc.html). He presented the fact that only 10% or less of the members of the typical SBC church show up for anything other than Sunday morning service. Life-changing conversions are as rare as hen’s teeth. Consider the statistics for 2013: A full 60% of SBC churches baptized zero youth between ages of 12-17 and 80% baptized zero or just one young adult ages 18-29. But there was an explosion in the baptisms of “five and under” (Annual Church Profile, 2013). That is “Baptist infant baptism”! And it is the sign of a dead denomination! I didn’t say “dying”; I said “dead.”
A great many Independent Baptists today are no different in spiritual character and saving power than those Southern Baptists. They should be on their faces before God in repentance and pleading for restoration power, but instead they are planning their next party, talking politics, and counting sports statistics. (That’s why they are dead, by the way.)
By God’s grace, I intend to keep on exhorting the brethren to be wise and biblical and careful--and zealous--about salvation!
Thank you again for taking the time to write.
In Christ, Bro. Cloud
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