Prior to the 1970s, Independent Baptist churches in general were spiritually stronger than today (though never strong enough, in our estimation), and one reason was that they were more careful about salvation.
Consider some prominent examples:
John R. Rice, 1940 - “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” (What Must I Do to Be Saved? 1940).
Baptist Bible Fellowship International, 1950 - “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).
Harold Sightler, 1963 - “To think of repentance that does not cause the sinner to turn gladly from his sins is impossible” (Chastening and Repentance, 1963).
B.R. Lakin, 1964 - “Repentance toward God--that’s turning away from all your sin and everything you know to be wrong, and turning right about face, then trusting Jesus Christ as your complete Redeemer” (Prepare to Meet Thy God, 1964).
Lester Roloff, 1965 - “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. … Repentance is something a lot bigger than a lot of people think. It is absolutely essential if you go to heaven” (Repent or Perish, 1965).
Highland Park Baptist Church c. 1965 - “Here are some things the sinner must do to be saved. He must want to be saved (Isa. 1:18-19). He must be willing for God to save him (Rev 22:18). He must acknowledge himself a sinner (Ps. 51:3; Lu. 15:17). He must repent - turn his back on sin and turn to God (Acts 20:21; Lu. 13:2). He must believe on Christ and His finished work of Redemption (Act 16:31; Joh. 1:12; Ro. 10:10; Joh. 3:16)” (Handbook for Our Members, Highland Park Baptist Church, Chattanooga, Tennessee, p. 32).
Leon Maurer, 1970 - “A rotely memorized prayer or some repeated statement without true repentance and faith never saves anyone” (Soul Winning: The Challenge of the Hour, The Sword of the Lord, 1970).
When these men talked of turning from sin, everyone in those days knew what they meant. They weren’t talking about reformation or a works salvation. They were talking about something that occurred in the heart. They were talking about a radical change of mind that put the individual on a new path.
Independent Baptists after the 1970s
Soul winning changed dramatically in the 1970s.
There was a frenzy for bigness, and this was the motivation for a change in soul winning doctrine and methodology.
The Sword of the Lord promoted the “biggest” and “the fastest growing” concept. This is the way that preachers were often introduced at Highland Park Baptist Church, Chattanooga, Tennessee, in the 1970s. I was there. I heard the introductions.
A new evangelistic program was introduced and spread rapidly. I experienced this program at Highland Park as a student at Tennessee Temple from 1974-1977.
Jack Hyles was by far the most influential teacher of the new soul winning and church planting methods, but it was The Sword of the Lord that gave his teaching a very wide promotion. In the 1960s, The Sword of the Lord published Hyles’ Let’s Go Soul Winning and Let’s Build an Evangelistic Church. The influence of these books exploded in the 1970s.
Second in influence, beginning in the late 1970s, was Curtis Hutson, who became the editor of The Sword of the Lord upon the death of John R. Rice in 1980. Hutson’s book Winning Souls and Getting Them Down the Aisle (Sword of the Lord, 1978) was very influential. Hutson’s mentor was Jack Hyles.
Jack Hyles taught that every church problem could be solved by his soul winning program:
“Soul winning is the basic secret of every other problem in the church. For example, here a church is having cold services. There is no warmth. There. The Lord does not meet with them. Now how do you overcome it? Get to winning souls. If somebody walks down the aisle every Sunday and professes their faith in Christ, that will warm the service up a great deal. Here is a church having trouble with its business. It doesn’t have enough folks who know business. It is having trouble handling its legal affairs. It doesn’t have enough wisdom. The Bible says, “He that winneth souls is wise.’ So God gives extra wisdom to those who win souls” (Hyles, Let’s Build an Evangelistic Church, p. 34).
This soul winning program, which I call “Quick Prayerism,” has the following characteristics:
1. An emphasis on “going to heaven when you die”
One of the things that happened in the 1970s to corrupt the practice of evangelism was that the emphasis changed to “going to heaven when you die.”
This was the heart and soul of Jack Hyles’ soul winning program.
“It may be done thusly. ‘Now, Mr. Doe, let me ask you a question: Do you know that if you died this minute you would go to Heaven?’
“‘No, I don’t believe I do.’
“‘Let me ask you this: Would you like to know? Don’t you think it would be fine if you could know that if you died you would go to Heaven?’
“Well, let me ask you this: If I could take the Bible and explain to you how you could know beyond any shadow of a doubt, that you could know right now, and you could see it and you could understand it, would you believe it? Would you do what the Bible says?’
“Do you see what I’m trying to say? It is good to get him committed that he will do it; then you have gone a long way toward getting him saved before you ever present the plan. So these three questions: (1) ‘Do you know that if you died today you would go to Heaven?’ (2) ‘Would you like to know?’ (3) ‘If I could show you how you could know, would you do it?’” (Hyles, Let’s Go Soul Winning, Sword of the Lord Publishers).
The most atrocious example of this we have seen is My John 3:16 Book: Lola Mazola’s Happyland Adventure. The cover depicts a gleeful child on a roller coaster holding a Bible. Children are taught that heaven is an exciting place, sort of like an eternal Disneyland, and they can go there “when they die” by saying a sinner’s prayer. It includes a “commemorative certificate” that is signed and dated to proclaim the child’s eternal security. The cover says, “Best-selling author Robert J. Morgan has told this story to children for years and personally witnessed hundreds of them in turn express faith in Jesus.”
Not once in the book of Acts do we find a preacher saying, “Do you want to go to heaven when you die? If so, you need to do this...” There is not a hint of that type of thing in Scripture.
Preachers in the New Testament promised eternal life through Jesus Christ, but they never used the “do you want to go to heaven” approach in evangelism. The emphasis, rather, is on knowing and serving Christ in this present life. The emphasis is on discipleship in the here and now rather than obtaining a ticket to heaven. It is on doing works meet for repentance (Ac. 26:20). It is on being ordained to walk in good works (Eph. 2:10). It is on living soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world (Tit. 2:12).
2. The “sinner’s prayer” became the focus of soul winning.
Another thing that happened in the 1970s to corrupt the practice of evangelism was that the sinner’s prayer became the focus.
An example of a sinner’s prayer is the following from the gospel tract God’s Simple Plan of Salvation:
“Dear Jesus, I know I am a sinner; I know I deserve hell for my sins. I believe You died for me, and I am trusting You to save me from hell and give me the gift of eternal life. Thank you Jesus for saving me. Amen.”
The sinner’s prayer can be traced to about the middle of the 20th century. The American Tract Society was founded in 1825 during the Second Great Awakening, but it was not until 1955 that it published its first tract containing a sinner’s prayer.
Billy Graham popularized the sinner’s prayer in his gospel tracts, beginning in the 1950s with Steps to Peace with God.
The sinner’s prayer was also popularized by Bill Bright and Campus Crusade for Christ.
It was Jack Hyles who popularized sinner’s prayer soul winning among Independent Baptists. This was the emphasis of his soul winning books and annual Pastor’s Schools. He said, “You must try to get them to pray.”
At a Bible conference a few years ago, some men challenged me, saying, “What about the sinner’s prayer? Do you believe in using the sinner’s prayer?”
My reply is simple: “Show me the sinner’s prayer in the New Testament.”
Jesus Christ never led an individual in a sinner’s prayer, and Paul never led anyone in a sinner’s prayer.
In our evangelism course Sowing and Reaping, we urge people to do their own studies of the following passages to learn how to deal with people in a biblical way. Study these passages and write down every lesson you can find about evangelism.
- Nicodemus - John 3:1-16
- The Woman at the Well - John 4:1-43
- The Rich Young Ruler - Mark 10:17-27
- Zacchaeus - Luke 19:1-10
- The Ethiopian Eunuch - Acts 8:26-39
- Lydia - Acts 16:14-15
- The Philippian Jailer - Acts 16:23-40
- The Athenians - Acts 17:14-34
In these passages of Scripture, you will find biblical “soul winning.” Instead of focusing on a sinner’s prayer, it has the following characteristics:
Biblical evangelism presents the gospel (Mark 16:15-16; Ro. 1:16). The job the Lord has given His people as ambassadors of Christ is to preach the gospel to every person on earth. The gospel is defined in a nutshell in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. This is the message that must be proclaimed and explained. A sinner does not have to become a theologian to be saved, but he does have to understand and receive the gospel. To understand the gospel, the individual must come to understand the character of God as a holy judge. He must understand that he is a sinner according to the Bible’s definition, meaning that he is not good and has no righteousness that is acceptable to God. He must understand who Jesus Christ is and the significance of Christ’s death as an atoning sacrifice. He must understand that Christ rose from the dead. He must understand what it means that Christ died and rose “according to the Scriptures.”
The soul winner’s job is to explain the gospel. How long this takes depends on the listener’s religious background, receptivity, and other factors.
Biblical evangelism is bringing sinners to wholehearted faith in Jesus Christ (Ac. 8:36-37). Salvation is not a prayer; it is a personal relationship with God in Christ. “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (Joh. 17:3).
Biblical evangelism urges sinners to call on Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.
“That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Ro. 10:9-13).
Here salvation is described as confessing the Lord Jesus with the mouth, believing from the heart that God has raised Him from the dead, and calling on Him.
The word “Lord” is mentioned three times in this key passage. To say that a person can receive Christ as Saviour and not as Lord has no biblical support. Jesus is Lord, and every soul will bow to Him as Lord, either in salvation or in judgment.
To believe on Christ savingly after the fashion of this passage (to confess Him, to believe unto righteousness, to call upon Him) requires that the individual understand and believe the gospel that Paul preached in Romans 1-3: man’s totally condemned condition before a holy God and his inability to save himself by good works and law keeping (Ro. 1:18 - 3:20) and Christ’s work of atonement for man’s behalf on the cross (Ro. 3:21-29).
To call on the Lord in the sense of Romans 10:13 is not a “sinner’s prayer” in the way that sinner’s prayer evangelism has been taught. It is simply a personal receiving of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.
A sinner’s prayer might be helpful to some people who don’t know what to say to the Lord in calling on Him for salvation. My wife was helped by a sinner’s prayer when she got saved as a teenager. But a sinner’s prayer is not the goal of evangelism. To get the sinner to receive the living Christ is the goal. If a sinner’s prayer is used at all, it must be used very carefully and wisely at the right time and with the right person.
And if a sinner’s prayer is used, it must be a good sinner’s prayer that helps the individual express biblical repentance and faith. Most of the sinner’s prayers that we have seen neglect repentance.
3. Plowing the soil was traded for a quick salesmanship program
Another thing that happened in the 1970s to corrupt the practice of evangelism was that the biblical concept of plowing the soil of the sinner’s heart with the law to prepare it for salvation for a quick salesmanship program.
When we refer to plowing the soil, we refer to sowing the seed of the gospel, carefully explaining it, using the law to show the sinner his plight, praying over it, and patiently waiting for the fruit that comes only by God’s Spirit.
The law of Moses was given to show man his fallen condition and to lead him to the Saviour (Ga. 3:24-25).
In Romans 1-3, we see Paul’s use of the law in this manner. He spends nearly two full chapters exposing man’s fallen condition and God’s righteous judgment upon all men before he mentions anything about the grace of God in Christ’s atonement.
This is the true “Romans Road”! It is careful to get the sinner totally and thoroughly lost before it tries to get him saved.
We think of those who were saved on the day of Pentecost. Three thousand were saved that day, but they were Jews who were steeped in the law of God! They knew about the one holy Creator God; they knew about the fall, about sin and righteousness; they knew about the necessity of an atonement; they knew the prophecies. The law had prepared them to understand the gospel.
The “old” Baptists believed in plowing the soil with the law to cause the sinner to see himself as exceedingly sinful and undone. We have seen how that J. Frank Norris preached a full week on hell before giving a salvation invitation and Harold Sighter preached 25 messages in a row on the wrath of God.
But this careful, patient preparation is done away with in the “Quick Prayerism” program.
Jack Hyles taught dozens of psychological tricks. Consider how he used prayer to manipulate individuals:
“There are several ways to do this, but you must try to get them to pray. If he is really ready, say, ‘Could I pray for you, and while I pray, would you pray and ask God to save you today?’ Maybe he is not quite that ready. Maybe you don't know. You could say, ‘Could I pray that you will get saved?’ Maybe you don’t think he will let you pray for him to get saved. Then you say, Could I have a word of prayer with you before I go?’
“Anyway, to get your head bowed is good. If you are talking to him, he might interrupt, but if you are talking to the Lord, he won’t. You can preach him a little sermon in the prayer. If you can’t win a fellow to Christ, and if he won’t let you present the plan to him, the best way to tell him how to be saved is to tell the Lord and let the sinner hear you.
“I go into a home and say, ‘Sir, would you like to know how to be saved?’
“‘No, don’t have time for it. The wife’s sick and I'm busy.’
“Could I have a prayer for your wife before we go, that she will get well?”
“With his wife lying there sick, a man would be a fool not to let the preacher pray for her. He says, ‘Well, O.K.’
“I pray, ‘Dear Lord, bless this wife and make her well, and help this man to know that Romans 3:10 says, ‘As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one.’ And if people die in their sins, according to Romans 6:23 ‘the wages of sin is death.’ O dear Lord, show him that Romans 5:8 is true when it says that ‘God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners...’
“Pray him the plan. He won’t interrupt you. You can get by with a lot of things talking to the Lord that you wouldn’t talking to him. ...
“I stop abruptly in my prayer. I pray a simple prayer. Never pray a big prayer. You must pray a prayer so simple that he won’t mind his prayer following yours.
“But you can pray this, ‘Dear Lord, here is a fellow who needs to get converted. I pray You will help him get saved. May he receive Christ. You love him, dear Lord...’ ‘Now fellow, will you pray?’ You pray like that, and he can pray his little prayer in a minute.
“I always stop in the middle of my prayer. I say, ‘Dear Lord, lead this man to be saved. You led me here and I pray that he will be saved today. May his wife have a Christian husband and the little children a Christian daddy. May this be the day of his salvation.’ Now while our heads are bowed in prayer, ‘Mr. Doe, would you be willing today to ask God to forgive you and tell Him you want to get saved?’
“See, you stop in the middle of your prayer and lead him to pray. Let me say this: Fifty per cent of the time when you get this far the lost person is going to pray” (Hyles, Let’s Go Soul Winning).
That is cheap psychological manipulation. It is tricky. It is dishonest. If you tell a man that you want to pray for him, but your goal actually is to preach to him and get him to pray a sinner’s prayer, that is deception. We see no hint of this in the Gospels or Acts.
Consider the following example of this methodology. Carl Hatch was called “the world’s greatest soul winner” by The Sword of the Lord editor Curtis Hutson and by Jack Hyles:
The Carl Hatch Squeeze
I don’t ask anybody if they want to be saved. If you want a positive answer you must ask a positive question. If you want a no answer ask a no question. If you want a yes answer ask a yes question. Soul winning is positive. And in soul winning you use a lot of psychology.
For instance, if you are lost and I say, “Mr. Smith, let me ask you a question. You don’t want to go to hell, do you?”
He will answer, No.
I say, “Wonderful, you want to go to heaven, don’t you?” He will say, Yes. I will reply, “Sure you do. Sure you do. Sure you do. I thank God for a man that doesn’t want to go to hell.”
Did you get that? I am reinforcing the fact that he wants to go to heaven. I’m keeping everything positive.
I don’t say, “Can I show this to you?” or “Do you mind if I read the Bible to you?” That’s negative and you will probably get a negative answer. I just say, “I’m so glad you don’t want to go to hell and I will just take a minute here to show you some verses. I don’t have long and I know you don’t, either. There’s three things that you need to know. First, Jesus died for you. Isn’t that wonderful? Two, Jesus loves you. Isn’t that wonderful? Three, Jesus wants you to go to heaven. Isn’t that wonderful? And I’m so glad that you want to.”
See, I am being positive.
He may say he has a lot of questions, but unsaved people don’t have questions. Don’t get on unsaved people’s questions. Tell them that you will answer their questions later, but first you want to read a few verses of Scripture. Unsaved people don’t have questions. If you get them saved, that answers all of them.
Let me tell you how to deal with someone who has a dumb spirit who bucks getting saved. You share the gospel and get them to the point of praying the sinner’s prayer, but they stop. How do you get that type of person saved? Now, this will work in most cases. If he is a man, put your hand on his shoulder and say, “Mr. Jones, I want to have prayer for you. I’m thrilled you want to go to heaven. God has been good to you. Bow your head with me. Then I pray, “Lord, I’m so thankful for this man that doesn’t want to burn in hell. I’m so thrilled he wants to go to heaven and not take his kids to hell. I thank you for this man. And I pray you will help him to see that need.”
While our heads are still bowed, I say, “Mr. Jones, if you want heaven as your home and Christ as your Saviour, pray this prayer. Lord Jesus.” And if he doesn’t repeat that and tries not to pray, I squeeze his shoulder. I use this technique. If I am dealing with the president of the bank, I take his hand and when it comes time for him to pray, I squeeze his hand. We’ve titled that the Carl Hatch squeeze. It works. If I am dealing with a woman, I ask her to put her hand on the Bible, and when it comes time to pray I just tap her hand gently. It works; it works!
(This is from a Carl Hatch soul winning seminar at Texas Baptist University. Hatch was called the world’s greatest soul winner by Sword of the Lord editor Curtis Hutson and by Jack Hyles.)
This is nothing more than cheap salesmanship. It might be a good way to sell a used car, but it is a bad way to win souls to Christ. There is not a hint of such a thing in Scripture.
We can’t imagine the Lord Jesus or the apostles doing such a thing. When Jesus dealt with the woman at the well, He didn’t ask a bunch of leading questions to keep the subject positive. He is the one who brought up the woman’s immoral lifestyle. When Christ dealt with Nicodemus, He confronted the man with his need of the new birth, which Nicodemus didn’t find positive at all. Christ told the rich young ruler to sell everything he had and follow Him. He told people if they didn’t repent they would perish, which is a very negative approach (Lu. 13:1-5). He told the people that only those who continue in His Word are true disciples (Joh. 8:30-31).
The Carl Hatch Squeeze is a damnable practice that turns biblical evangelism into cheap salesmanship. Hatch didn’t take the time to deal carefully and clearly with any part of the gospel. Who and what was Christ? What is sin? What does it mean that Christ died for my sins? What does it mean that He died according to the Scriptures? What does it mean that He rose from the dead? And Hatch didn’t even hint at repentance.
Jesus and the evangelists in the early churches knew absolutely nothing of the “Carl Hatch Squeeze.”
4. A quick program
Another thing that happened in the 1970s to corrupt the practice of evangelism was to develop a quick program.
Jack Hyles’ soul winning books encouraged evangelists to try to lead a complete stranger in a sinner’s prayer after just a few minutes. Many times he told of leading people in a sinner’s prayer in 10 or 15 minutes.
One afternoon I went soul winning with a pastor who was trained in this method. He is a man of God, but he has unthinkingly adopted the methodology he was taught. At each door he would go through Hyles’ plan. He would ask the individual if he or she would like to go to heaven when he died and if he would listen while he told him how to do that. None of them even let us into the house, as I remember, and they showed zero interest in Jesus Christ. But when they didn’t actually close the door, the pastor would quickly go through the most basic points of the “Romans Road” (e.g., you are a sinner, the wages of sin is death, the gift of God in Christ is eternal life). After that presentation, which took only a few minutes, he said, “Do you have any questions?” None did. And then he asked, “Would you like to pray now to receive Christ as your Saviour?” None of the people were interested enough even to let us into their houses and they had no questions, but he was ready to lead them in a sinner’s prayer in such a circumstance. That is Quick Prayerism. And these were mostly university students who were steeped in evolution and humanism. Later I asked the pastor why he didn’t even hint at repentance in his presentation, and he said that he hadn’t thought about it.
Following is the full content of Jack Hyles’ Romans’ Road:
I always use the following: “Now, Mr. Doe, there are only four things you must know to be saved. First, you must know that you are a sinner. For example, Romans 3:10 says, ‘As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one.’ Let me illustrate. If there is none righteous, that means I’m not righteous, doesn’t it? (Notice, I didn’t get him unrighteous first; I got me unrighteous. Never put the sinner below you. You always let him know that but for the grace of God you would be in the fix he is in. You get yourself lost first.) So if there is none righteous, I’m not righteous. If there is none righteous, then Mr. Doe, you are not righteous. Also, it says, ‘For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.’ Now if all have sinned, that means I’ve sinned-- right? That means your wife has sinned, and that means you have sinned.”
If he still acts like he is not a sinner, you just list a few sins and you will catch him. A lot of times I say this: “You do realize that you are a sinner? For example, the Bible mentions some sins such as evil thinking, bad literature, ugly disposition, etc.” Somewhere along that line there will be something that he does. Show him that he is a sinner.
Second, show him the price on sin. Romans 5:12: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin...” What kind of death? All death, both spiritual and physical death, the sum total of death. “... and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” And Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death...” So there is a price on sin. What is that price? Death. What kind of death? That includes the second death of Revelation 20:14, and that second death is the Lake of Fire. So ultimately a person who is a sinner must pay for it by going to Hell. That is the basic price on sin.
Third, the next thing we must do is show that Jesus paid the price. So I say this: “Mr. Doe, God looked down from Heaven and saw that you were a sinner. He saw that you were in debt. He saw that you and I deserved to go to Hell. He wanted to save us and made a plan to do it. He came to the world Himself. His name was Jesus. He was God in a human body. For thirty-three years He lived here in this world. He did not commit one single sin. This is important. Mr. Doe, suppose that Jesus Christ had sinned one time only. The price on sin being death or Hell, where would Jesus have had to go when He died? The answer is Hell, but He did not sin. He did not commit one sin, but He went to the cross, and on the cross He suffered spiritual death when He said, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ He suffered the same thing that a lost person will have to suffer in Hell. I'll go farther than that. I believe that He suffered as much in that moment on Calvary as the sum total eternal suffering of all the lost people who will ever go to Hell to stay forever. Actually He was paying our price for our sins. He was becoming our substitute.”
Fourth, “If we will receive that price as our hope for Heaven and receive Him as our Saviour from sin, He will make us His children and take us to Heaven when we die” (Hyles Let’s Go Soul Winning).
This is not even the complete gospel, because Hyles says nothing about Christ’s resurrection.
“For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Co. 15:3-4).
But even if the Hyles plan included the resurrection, it is an extremely shallow presentation of the gospel. It might be enough for someone who has grown up in a Bible-believing church in the Bible Belt of America and has been taught the principles of the Bible all his life. But it isn’t enough for an individual who has never heard the gospel. It isn’t enough for an atheistic Humanist, a Hindu, a Buddhist, or a Muslim. It’s too shallow, too basic, too quick.
Consider the fact that man is a sinner. No one can be saved if he does not believe and acknowledge that he is a sinner, and that he is such a sinner that he absolutely deserves eternal hell.
When asked if they believe they are a sinner, many people will answer in the affirmative simply because they know that they are not perfect, but at the same time, they do not believe that they are so wicked as to deserve God’s wrath. Most people will admit that they aren’t perfect, but they also think of themselves as basically good or at least that their good can outweigh the bad. They know they have done wrong, but they don’t think of themselves as deserving of hell. In their minds, they redefine “sin” to be a lack of perfection or a lack self-esteem or (if Catholics) they divide sin into “categories” of mortal and venial, or some such thing.
They do not believe that they are sinners from conception by nature (Psalm 51:5) and that even their very righteousness is as filthy rags before a holy God (Isaiah 64:6).
An example of not plowing the ground sufficiently was told to me by a pastor friend who had the following experience at Lancaster Baptist Church in Lancaster, California:
“We went out with their staff on Saturday morning for soul winning. We were immediately partnered up with some of the veterans. The first door we went to, we spoke to a friendly Catholic guy and to my surprise, the guy got ‘saved’ before my very eyes as ------- took him from a few scripture passages to the sinner’s prayer so smoothly that I was caught off guard. I caught myself and while ------- was recording this man’s contact details and writing it down, I asked the man whether (1) he believed that he was a good person and (2) that it is possible to go to heaven by being a good person. This man who had just got ‘saved’ told me ‘YES.’ I looked around and the other two men beside me said nothing and did nothing. We went to a few more places and eventually reached a home with a Roman Catholic young lady who came to the door. She said she was a professing Christian. Even though she said that all churches were the same ------- gave her assurance of salvation by quoting 1 John 5:13.”
It is unconscionable to deal with people in such a shallow way. The “Catholic guy” acknowledged that he is a “sinner,” but he didn’t mean by that that he was deserving of hell. He didn’t mean what the Bible means. He still thought of himself as basically a good person deserving of heaven because of his “good deeds”! Obviously he wasn’t ready to get saved and should not have been led in a sinner’s prayer. It was all too hasty and shallow.
One time I was on visitation with a man in Oklahoma City when a woman invited us into her house. Her teenage children were in the living room, so we accepted the invitation and my partner began to talk to her. Though it was soon evident that her language was Portuguese and her English was very rudimentary, he proceeded to give her the Romans Road and try to lead her in a sinner’s prayer. I stopped him and suggested that we should obtain a Portuguese Bible and find someone who speaks her language.
Jack Hyles told of a man in Texas who supposedly led a hitchhiker to Christ even though the man was deaf and dumb and couldn’t read!
“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” (Let’s Build an Evangelistic Church).
This isn’t biblical evangelism; it is blind mysticism.
This evangelistic methodology is so brief and quick that it is expected to produce salvation during the few minutes of a gospel invitation in a church service or an evangelistic meeting. I recall the practice of Highland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Every Sunday morning people would come forward for “salvation,” be dealt with in the front of the auditorium, be led in a sinner’s prayer, and then be baptized after answering a few simple questions in the affirmative, all in the space of a few minutes.
I have always thought that this program is unscriptural and even ridiculous. At the very least, seekers should be taken to another room and dealt with carefully, for as long as it takes, and there should be no pressure whatsoever.
5. Not looking for evidence
Another thing that happened in the 1970s to corrupt the practice of evangelism was to stop looking for evidence.
I was discussing the doctrine of repentance with a missionary some years ago in England. He had told me that many people were being saved through their soul winning outreach, but when I asked about the church services, he said that they had a small number of people in the services and admitted that most of the people being “saved” were not interested enough even to attend the services. I challenged him about the claim that the people were actually being saved. I asked, “How can you say they are saved when there is no evidence of it in their lives?” He became agitated and strongly countered that I had no right to judge the salvation of people who were making professions through his ministry. He said, “You cannot know who is saved.” This man had recently attended Hyles Pastor’s School, and he said the featured topic that year was repentance!
The idea that you cannot tell if someone is saved is heresy. It is possible, of course, for a person to show false signs of salvation and to deceive people, as Judas did. And we are not saying that a genuinely saved person will suddenly be sinlessly perfect or that every true believer is equally zealous to serve Christ or that a saved person immediately makes “Jesus Lord of his entire life.” But the Bible is clear that if someone is genuinely saved, there will definitely be evidence in his or her life. I don’t know of one example of conversion in the New Testament that did not result in a dramatically changed life. Do you?
For several weeks in 1977, my wife and I followed up on a Phoster Club soul-winning program in a fundamental Baptist church. Though the Phoster Club ladies reported many salvations and had a stack of cards representing “decisions for Christ,” we did not find even one person who demonstrated biblical evidence. In fact, most of the people we tried to follow up on didn’t even invite us into the house for a talk.
Churches reported thousands of souls saved annually, though these numbers were not reflected in the active membership. Jack Hyles claimed that his church saw more people saved on May 3, 1998, than were saved and baptized on the day of Pentecost. He estimated that around 15,000 people were saved and 5,112 were baptized on that one day. But the Wednesday night crowd, which is the truest indication of the real church, was not more than several hundred, and that included Hyles-Anderson college students.
First Baptist Church’s Spanish department reported 35,000 professions from 1977-1987, but the average attendance was never more than 1,400 (www.firesofevangelism.org/Origin.html).
Longview Baptist Temple in Longview, Texas, claims that more than one million people were won to Christ in 25 years, which is an average of 40,000 a year (www.lbtministries.com/Pastor/Meet_Our_Pastor.htm). Yet on an average mid-week service, which is the truest reflection of an American church’s active membership, you will find only a few hundred people in attendance.
When we were given the “decision” cards to follow up a county fair ministry in Oklahoma in the late 1990s, of the hundreds of professions that were recorded we could not find even one person who gave any evidence of salvation or was even interested in attending church.
A pastor friend followed up on the more than 100 “salvation decisions” that were made at a county fair ministry in Kentucky in 2011, and he did not find one soul who was even interested enough in Christ to attend church.
Quick Prayerism with its empty statistics is not something that is practiced only by Independent Baptists.
In the 1990s, the Assemblies of God had an evangelistic outreach called “Decade of Harvest,” and of the 3.5 million professions only five out of 100 actually joined a church, and much fewer than that proved to be true disciples of Christ.
The same is true for the Southern Baptist Convention. SBC Evangelist Jim Elliff says, “Our largest pizza supper may bring in a hundred new ‘converts,’ but we will likely get only a few of those on the roll. [And even the vast majority of these will not become faithful church members.] In other words, if you compare all who we say have become Christians through our evangelistic efforts, to those who actually show signs of being regenerate, we should be red-faced” (“Southern Baptists, An Unregenerate Denomination,” ccwtoday.org).
6. Repentance was redefined.
Another thing that happened in the 1970s to corrupt the practice of evangelism was the redefinition of the doctrine of repentance.
We have seen that Independent Baptist preachers formerly taught a clear doctrine of repentance as a turning, a surrender, a change of mind that results in a change of life, but this changed.
Instead of repentance and faith as two different things, as Paul taught (Acts 20:21), repentance and faith became one thing. Repentance became faith.
Instead of a turning to God from sin and false religion, repentance became a turning from unbelief to belief.
Instead of repentance as something that always produces evidence (Acts 26:20), repentance became something that might not be seen.
Consider some examples:
Curtis Hutson - “The problem and confusion is not preaching repentance but attaching the wrong definition to the word. For instance, to say that repentance means to turn from sin, or to say that repentance is a change of mind that leads to a change of action, is to give a wrong definition to the word” (Repentance: What Does the Bible Teach? Sword of the Lord, 1986, p. 16).
Jack Hyles - “So, yes, there is a repentance from unbelief in order to believe. ... With your will you believe and rely upon Christ to save you. In order to believe, you have to repent of unbelief. That which makes a man lost must be corrected” (Enemies of Soulwinning, 1993). Hyles taught that repentance does not mean “to turn from sin.”
Bob Gray - “10,446 professions of faith in 1995. … Repentance is not a doctrine. The word ‘repent’ is not even found in the book of John. It is obviously assumed by God that ‘repentance’ is a part of ‘believing.’ … Repentance is not turning from your sins. … Repentance is to change one’s mind from unbelief to belief in Christ” (“A Message from the Pastor,” The Soulwinner, January 1996, Longview Baptist Temple, Longview, Texas).
Brent Neal - “The emphasis upon repentance has created confusion among preachers young and old. It has been a source of discouragement to soulwinners. … I have two choices. I can follow those who wear their soulwinning pins and carry New Testaments, or I can follow those who are critical of leading people to Christ. May the critics repent and may the soulwinners realize that we are on the same team” (“Is Repentance an Attack on Soulwinning?” The Baptist Contender, June 1996).
Fred Afman of Tennessee Temple - “The many false conditions of salvation [include] water baptism and repentance” (“The Way of Salvation,” Sunday School class, Highland Park Baptist Church, Chattanooga, Tennessee, May 1996; quoted from Chris McNeilly, The Great Omission, pp. 25, 26).
Tolbert Moore - “If someone says: repent for sins and you are not saved, what do they mean by that? … repentance in the true sense of the word really means to turn from being an unbeliever and to become a believer” (“Repentance and Lordship Salvation,” The Gospel Preacher, September 1996).
In the 1980s, during Curtis Hutson’s tenure, The Sword of the Lord stopped publishing Leon Maurer’s Soul Winning: The Challenge of the Hour, which said, “A rotely memorized prayer or some repeated statement without true repentance and faith never saves anyone.”
The Sword also stopped publishing John Rice’s Here Are More Questions, in which Rice said, “People ought to be taught to turn from sin in genuine repentance” (Vol. II, p. 425).
Further, The Sword Hymnal was purged of many references to repentance.
By changing the doctrine of repentance and by calling the old doctrine of repentance the “enemy of soul winning,” Jack Hyles was saying that a biblical understanding of repentance got in the way of his program. The old doctrine of repentance is not the enemy of biblical soul winning; it is the enemy of the Jack Hyles-type soul winning.
A traditional biblical understanding of repentance does not allow a man to claim that thousands of sinners are being saved when most of them show no evidence of regeneration. A traditional biblical understanding of repentance does not allow a man to count a mere sinner’s prayer as salvation. It is one thing to say that 100 or 1,000 people prayed a prayer; it is another thing to say that those people are saved and to give them assurance of salvation.
If they are saved, there will be a change.
“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).
“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).
“But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak” (Hebrews 6:9).
“He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:4).
The Bible warns that profession of salvation is not the same as possession.
“They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate” (Titus 1:16).
7. The doctrine of eternal security was corrupted.
Another thing that happened in the 1970s to corrupt the practice of evangelism is that the biblical doctrine of eternal security was divorced from a life-changing salvation experience.
Consider the following passages carefully:
“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. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand. I and my Father are one” (Joh. 10:27-30).
Christ’s promise of eternal life is not for everyone who prays a sinner’s prayer; it is for those who hear his voice and follow Him. That is evidence, and eternal security is never divorced from a life-changing born again experience.
“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 Jo. 3:2-3).
Verse 2 describes eternal security, and verse 3 describes the evidence of the born again child of God who has eternal security.
See also 1 Co. 15:1-2; Col. 1:21-23; 2 Ti. 2:19; Heb. 6:8-11; 10:38-39.
But in the 1970s, eternal security was divorced from a change of life and the evidence of an obedient walk. The typical soul winning program aimed to lead someone in a sinner’s prayer and then give him “assurance of salvation” immediately, even if there was no evidence that the person was even sincere in the prayer, even if the person would not so much as invite the soul winner into his house.
Once my wife was taken on “soul winning visitation” by a supposed expert who led a man in a sinner’s prayer. While the expert was writing down the man’s information, the man told my wife, “I don’t really believe that stuff.” Yet he was given “assurance” and reported as a convert.
Granting assurance of salvation is the work of the Spirit of God (Ro. 8:16; Ga. 4:6; 1 Jo. 5:10). We can show the individual where assurance is found, which is in God’s Word, but we can’t give the assurance. The Lord knows those that are His, and the believer’s part is to demonstrate his salvation by departing from iniquity (2 Ti. 2:19).
8. A focus on “child evangelism”
Another thing that happened in the 1970s to corrupt the practice of evangelism was a focus on child evangelism.
A huge emphasis was placed on winning little children to Christ and baptizing them.
The Vacation Bible School program was geared toward this. It was at a VBS that I made an empty profession of Christ and was baptized when I was 10-11 years old.
In the Southern Baptist Convention, there was a 96% growth rate from 1970 to 2010 in baptisms of pre-schoolers. 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!
A child can believe on Jesus Christ savingly, but it is doubtful that a pre-schooler can do this.
We know that there were no small children baptized on the day of Pentecost, because all of the 3,000 who were baptized “continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). That is not the description of a five-year-old child.
I grew up under this type of ministry and philosophy, and the fruit was wretched. It plays a major role in building mixed multitude churches, meaning churches whose membership has a large percentage of unregenerate Christians. The vast majority of the children that got “saved” at a young age either fell away to the world in adolescence or stayed in the church as lukewarm, worldly Christians.
In the 1970s and 1980s, some church planters actually tried to build churches on child evangelism, driven by bus ministries and gimmicks, which is not what we see in Acts 13-14, and this is a passage of Scripture specifically given as the preeminent example of missionary church planting for the entire age.
Shallow, unscriptural soul winning and neglect of repentance have produced incredibly weak churches. It has produced churches that are mixed multitudes instead of churches of disciples.
If professing Christians are rebels against God’s Word and refuse to obey the preaching, refuse to be faithful, refuse to separate from the world, are insubordinate to pastoral authority, it is probably because they aren’t saved. As we have seen, the Bible is very clear on this point. See, for example, John 8:47; 10:27; Titus 1:16; 1 John 2:3-4.
Most churches are far too careless about salvation. They pronounce people, including children, saved on a mere profession with no regard for biblical evidence.
Long ago I rejected this tradition. My sole authority for faith and practice is the Bible, and in the Bible we see an emphasis on genuine spiritual conversion with evidence.
One of my first books was Does Salvation Make a Difference? For more than 40 years I have warned about the carelessness I have witnessed both in Southern Baptist and Independent Baptist churches. We want to follow the Bible, not human tradition, and the biblical example is Acts 2:41-42. This is a description of a church of born again disciples.
“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.”
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