A genuine experience of salvation is foundational to spiritual protection, because it is impossible to understand the truth properly apart from the new birth.
“But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
Further, those who are not saved are still under the power of the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:1-2). It is only the truly regenerate individual who can claim the precious promise of 1 John 4:4, “greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.”
Yet confusion about salvation is rampant.
I began to understand this many decades ago when I sat in the office of the head of the Bible Society in Calcutta, India, and talked with him about salvation. I told him how I was converted at age 23, and then I asked, “How were you saved?” He sort of chuckled and said, “I’m a third generation Christian.”
According to Scripture, there is no such thing. Jesus said that each individual must be born again. I can’t go to heaven on the coattails of the faith of my parents or grandparents.
On that same trip to India I sat in the office of the head of the theological seminary at Serampore University. When I asked him how a person becomes a Christian he replied: “There are a number of ways. You can be born into a Christian home; you can be baptized; you can be catechized; you can have a conversion experience.”
A few years ago I attended Rick Warren’s church in California and as I was waiting for the service to begin I talked to the man sitting next to me. I asked if he was a member of the church, and he said yes. I then asked when he was born again, and he replied that he had always been a Christian.
Again, that is not possible.
Consider the Charismatic Movement
Consider the charismatic movement with its radical ecumenism. While there are saved people in the movement, there are countless people who are not saved. They have had an emotional mystical experience of some sort; they have prayed a prayer and been “baptized by the Spirit”; they have fallen down, spoken in tongues, danced, been captivated by powerful music. But they haven’t repented of their sin and put their complete trust in the once for all atonement of Jesus Christ. At the massive New Orleans ’87 conference, which had roughly 35,000 attendees, half of the people raised their hands one evening to indicate that they didn’t know for sure if they were saved, and this was after these same people had spent two or three days in enthusiastic charismatic worship.
At a press conference the next day, Dennis Costella of Foundation magazine asked why the conference didn’t address the matter of salvation plainly and publicly in order to clear up the obvious confusion. A Pentecostal leader replied, “We don’t have time for that.” The more honest answer would have been as follows:
“We are a mixed multitude and there is widespread confusion about salvation in our midst. This conference represents 40 different denominations, and we have different ideas about the gospel itself. Our Catholic brethren have one idea and our Lutheran brethren another and there are differences of opinion even among us Pentecostals. In the context of the ecumenical aspect of the charismatic movement, some believe baptism is necessary for salvation; some believe you can’t be saved without tongues; some believe baptism regenerates; some believe cooing infants can be saved; some believe salvation must be nurtured through sacraments; some believe you can lose your salvation; some believe salvation is a mere sinner’s prayer; some believe in ‘Four Spiritual Laws,’ etc. So it is impossible to be doctrinally precise on that or practically any other issue and still keep our unity. As you know, doctrine divides; love unites, and love is what really matters. We can’t judge someone else, you know.”
That is the situation that exists within the broad worldwide charismatic movement.
Consider the Emerging Church
There is the same problem in the emerging church. In my research into the emerging church I have been amazed at the widespread confusion about the issue of salvation itself.
In fact, Brian McLaren, one of the most prominent names in the movement, says:
“I don’t think we’ve got the gospel right yet. What does it mean to be ‘saved’? When I read the Bible, I don’t see it meaning, ‘I’m going to heaven after I die.’ Before modern evangelicalism nobody accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior, or walked down an aisle, or said the sinner’s prayer. I don't think the liberals have it right. But I don't think we have it right either. None of us has arrived at orthodoxy” (“The Emergent Mystique,” Christianity Today, Nov. 2004, p. 40).
In fact, it is rare to find a clear biblical testimony of salvation in the writings of emerging church leaders.
Scot McKnight says that “conversion” can be through liturgy (referring to sacraments such as baptism), or through socialization (growing up in a Christian home), or through personal decisional faith in Christ (Turning to Jesus: The Sociology of Conversion in the Gospels).
This statement reflects a deep confusion about salvation.
Robert Webber, who grew up in a Baptist pastor’s home, argued that salvation does not have to be a dramatic conversion experience and admitted that he didn’t have such an experience. He said that repentance “can have a dramatic beginning or can come as a result of a process over time” (The Divine Embrace, p. 149). He saw salvation as a sacramental process that begins at baptism, and this is one reason why he left the Baptists and joined the Episcopalians and was also perfectly comfortable with Roman Catholicism.
Tony Campolo has a similar testimony. In Letters to a Young Evangelical Campolo described his own experience in the following words:
When I was a boy growing up in a lower-middle-class neighborhood in West Philadelphia, MY MOTHER, a convert to Evangelical Christianity from a Catholic Italian immigrant family, HOPED I WOULD HAVE ONE OF THOSE DRAMATIC ‘BORN-AGAIN’ EXPERIENCES. That was the way she had come into a personal relationship with Christ. She took me to hear one evangelist after another, praying that I would go to the altar and come away ‘converted.’ BUT IT NEVER WORKED FOR ME. I would go down the aisle as the people around me sang ‘the invitation hymn,’ but I just didn’t feel as if anything happened to me. For a while I despaired, wondering if I would ever get ‘saved.’ It took me quite some time to realize that entering into a personal relationship with Christ DOES NOT ALWAYS HAPPEN THAT WAY. ...
In my case INTIMACY WITH CHRIST WAS DEVELOPED GRADUALLY OVER THE YEARS, primarily through what Catholic mystics call ‘centering prayer.’ Each morning, as soon as I wake up, I take time--sometimes as much as a half hour--to center myself on Jesus. I say his name over and over again to drive back the 101 things that begin to clutter up my mind the minute I open my eyes. Jesus is my mantra, as some would say. ...
I LEARNED ABOUT THIS WAY OF HAVING A BORN-AGAIN EXPERIENCE FROM READING THE CATHOLIC MYSTICS, especially The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola (Letters to a Young Evangelical, 2006, pp. 25, 26, 30).
This is very frightful testimony. Campolo does not have a biblical testimony of salvation. He plainly admits that he is not “born again” in the way that his mother was, through a biblical-style conversion. Instead, he describes his “intimacy with Christ” as something that has developed gradually through the practice of Catholic mysticism.
For one thing, this is to confuse the issue of salvation with that of spiritual growth. All of the conversions that are recorded in the New Testament are of the instantaneous, dramatic variety. We think of the woman at the well (John 4), Zacchaeus (Luke 19), the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8), Paul (Acts 9), Cornelius (Acts 10), Lydia (Acts 16), and the Philippian jailer (Acts 16), to name a few. The Lord Jesus Christ said that salvation is a birth (John 3:3). That is not a gradual thing that happens throughout one’s life; it is an event!
Further, Catholic mysticism itself is deeply unscriptural. Jesus forbad repetitious prayers (Mat. 6:7). He taught us to pray in a verbal, conscious manner, talking with God as with a Father, addressing God the Father external to us, not searching for a mystical oneness with God in the center of our being through meditation (Mat. 6:9-13). The Catholic mystics did not have a biblical testimony of salvation. They trusted in Christ PLUS baptism and the other Catholic sacraments, which is a false gospel.
Jim Wallis, one of the most influential of emergents, defines “born again” as follows:
“Being born again was not meant to be a private religious experience that is hard to communicate … but rather the prerequisite for joining a new and very public movement – the Jesus and kingdom of God movement” (The Great Awakening, p. 60).
Wallis claims that salvation isn’t a personal religious experience, but that is exactly what it was in the case of the salvations recorded in the New Testament.
The book Emerging Churches by Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger contains the testimonies of about 50 emerging church leaders in Appendix A, and only a couple of them even come close to a biblical testimony. Some of them don’t mention a personal salvation testimony, merely saying that they grew up in some type of church.
And remember that these are emerging church LEADERS.
Ben Edson of Sanctus1 in Manchester, England, says:
“After a painful breakup with my girlfriend, I gave God another chance. I cried out to God at my point of need, and God met me in a profound and life-changing way” (p. 266).
Is salvation a matter of giving God a chance, of God meeting my needs and having a “profound” experience of some sort? Many people have life-changing experiences through psychology, 12-Step programs, New Age mysticism, and goddess worship.
Kester Brewin of Vaux in London, England, said:
“I can point to a Billy Graham rally in 1984 as a conversion, but that was really more of a moment of STRENGTHENING A FAITH THAT HAD ALWAYS been there” (Emerging Churches, 2005, p. 248).
Ephesians 2:1-2 says there is a time before salvation and a time after salvation. Before salvation we are dead in trespasses and sins and controlled by the devil. After salvation we have new life in Christ and belong to God. It is sometimes the case with a child who grows up in church that he does not remember the exact time that he put his faith in Christ, but true salvation is always a life-changing event and one should never say that he has always had faith.
In the book What Is the Emerging Church? we give many more examples of this.
Consider Christian Rock
From its inception, Christian rock has been promoted as a great tool for evangelism and large numbers of professions of faith have been reported, but there is reason to be very skeptical.
John Blanchard researched 13 mission agencies in Britain to see how many of their candidates were converted at Christian rock concerts. Not one was found. The following reply was typical: “I cannot call to mind anybody who has been converted through this type of youth evangelism and has subsequently gone to missionary service” (Pop Goes the Gospel, pp. 110-112).
When decisions made at Christian rock concerts in Britain were followed up, it was found that very few were genuine. For example, of 200 decisions recorded at one youth meeting, only four attended a follow-up session. Of the 100 students who made “decisions” in a school visited by a CCM performance, only one later showed even “a mild interest” in Christian things (Blanchard, Pop Goes the Gospel, p. 110).
The devil has provided many alternatives to the new birth and there are many sorts of false professions of salvation. Note the Bible’s warnings:
* A person can believe in God and not be saved (James 2:19).
* A person can pray to Jesus and not be saved (Matt. 7:22-23).
* A person can prophesy in Jesus’ name and not be saved (Matt. 7:22-23).
* A person can do wonderful works in Jesus’ name and not be saved (Matt. 7:22-23).
* A person can have a zeal for God and not be saved (Rom. 10:2-3).
* A person can have a zeal to make proselytes for God and not be saved (Matt. 23:15).
* A person can be very interested in Jesus Christ and not be saved (Matt. 19:16-22).
* A person can profess to know God and not be saved (Titus 1:16).
* A person can follow Jesus for a while and not be saved (Jn. 6:66).
* A person can serve Christ as an apostle and not be saved (John 6:70).
* A person can even believe on Jesus’ name and not be saved (John 2:23-24).
The reason the people in John 2:23-25 were not saved is because they did not believe on Jesus as their Lord and Saviour from sin but as their worldly messiah who would feed them and rescue them from their political enemies (Jn. 6:26).
Consider the Southern Baptist Convention
The Southern Baptist Convention has a reputation of being very conservative, yet only about 30 percent of the members of Southern Baptist churches even attend Sunday morning service and only about 10 percent participate in anything beyond that. As Jim Elliff at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary observed, “These figures suggest that nearly 90% of Southern Baptist church members appear to be little different from the ‘cultural Christians’ who populate mainline denominations” (Founder’s Journal, Feb. 7, 1999).
I suggest that this means that the vast majority of Southern Baptists are not born again. Those who joined the first church at Jerusalem demonstrated the reality of their Christianity by “continuing steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42).
I grew up in the Southern Baptist Convention and I know that it was typical to make a profession of faith of some sort when you were a kid and to be baptized even though there was no real indication that you had been born again. And it was commonplace that an individual’s salvation was never questioned thereafter no matter how wicked he lived and no matter how obvious it was that he had never been converted (e.g., Matthew 18:3; John 3:3; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Titus 1:16; 1 John 2:4). It was typical to leave church sometime during adolescence (because you had zero interest in spiritual things), and to go out and “sow your wild oats,” and then to come back to church at some point years later and take up right where you left off without ever having a real life-changing conversion experience. Reformation is not the same as salvation. In this way, churches become filled up with unregenerate members as the generations pass.
Consider Independent Baptists
I am not sure how much better the situation is among Independent Baptists. The practice of Quick Prayerism and the haste to baptize people upon a mere “profession of faith” with no evidence of the new birth has doubtless filled many churches with unregenerate people who are trying to act like Christians without ever having experienced the life-changing miracle of conversion.
An experience that a pastor friend had during a soul-winning visitation is all too typical. A couple of years ago he went door knocking with one of the prominent soul-winners in a large independent Baptist church. This man is a veteran missionary from Japan as well as a teacher of evangelism and missions. A young preacher was also with them who was preparing to start a new church. They knocked on a door and a Roman Catholic man answered. He wasn’t interested enough to invite them in, but the soul-winner quickly presented the “Romans Road,” led him in a sinner’s prayer, and gave him “assurance.” As the soul-winner and the young preacher were busy writing down the man’s address and other details, my pastor friend asked the man if he believed he was a good man and that he would die and go to heaven based on his merits as a good person, and he replied, “Yes, of course!” Which is a proper Catholic answer, of course, but it is not the answer of a truly saved man. My pastor friend said: “Nobody blinked; they kept on writing as if nothing happened. I actually had to pause and look around to see if all this was for real before I realized that this wasn't important from their perspective because he had already prayed a prayer and as long as he can be brought in to attend Sunday School, he can be baptized and trained to act like an IFB church member afterwards.”
Quick Prayerism is a frightful, unscriptural practice that is rampant within Independent Baptist circles. I was taught it in the 1970s as a student at Tennessee Temple, one of the largest Independent Baptist schools. It was promoted by Jack Hyles, one of the most influential Independent Baptist pastors. It has long been promoted by the Sword of the Lord. It is even practiced by many preachers who say they are against it and who claim to believe in “repentance”!
I have dealt with this problem extensively in the book Repentance and Soul Winning.
I would challenge every reader to examine yourself in the light of God’s Word to make sure of your salvation.
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
“Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Colossians 2:8).
In the book Keeping the Kids we devote a chapter to the importance of a genuine conversion experience.
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