Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Illness that Plagues Modern-Day Evangelicalism

Do you know the story of the conversion of Paul of Tarsus whom the Bible refers to as The Apostle Paul? If not, it goes like this:

Paul, according to the New Testament, was actually called Saul. He was a Pharisee whose life work had suddenly become to kill Christians. It isn't clear whether he threw stones, fed them to lions, or any other dastardly and heinous methods of killing worshipers of Jesus Christ. But, he did hunt them down, turned them into the authorities and this is where we pick up the story of his conversion.

Paul was fuming that day over the disciples of Jesus Christ. In fact, the text says that he was “breathing out threats and slaughter” about the chance to go on a Christian hunt and return with them bound and gagged into Jerusalem. i He had to go to the high priest to get written authorization to go on his murderous way. The permission was granted and off he went toward Damascus.

When he was getting close to reaching Damascus with his entourage of fellow Christian hunters, something happened. The Biblical text describes it:

“As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone.

Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes, he could see nothing. So, they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days, he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.” ii

If you continue in the text (and read Paul's epistles), you will find that the result of that “Road to Damascus” experience was a complete and total change in the man’s life. He went from a Christian killer to a Christ worshiper in an instant. In the blink of eye, he stopped killing and began obeying the Lord Jesus Christ and would go on to become the great Apostle Paul.

For a brief moment, lets assume a different scenario:

Paul has the conversion experience and, though profoundly emotionally affected, he goes on killing Christians. He continues, in other words, in his previous heinous activities. He is living like the Devil.

Jesus comes to Paul again in a vision:

JESUS: “Paul, Paul, you called me Lord. You went when and where I called you to go. Why are still killing my people?

PAUL: “Oh, well, I am just a baby Christian and after all, I am not that mature in the faith yet. And besides, I just killed 75 Christians this week. That's down from my normal average.”

JESUS: “But Paul, you don't get the point. When I save someone, I make him or her New Creatures in Christ. The old man and all his lusts and evil desires are done away with and all things become new.”

PAUL: “Ok. I'll reduce my Christian kill rate to only 50 per week. How's that?”

As absurd as this sounds, I sat speechless one evening this week listening to a young man who had professed to have become a Christian, but telling me that he still engages in the sinful acts he did before he “prayed to receive Christ” and gave as his justification that this was how he was raised. The man who had allegedly “led him to Christ” offered an excuse, “We are all sinners and he is just a babe in Christ.”

Now tell me: Would the Apostle Paul had been sincerely converted if he continued on with his murderous spree of killing Christians after The Road to Damascus experience? Can anyone really respond to that question in the affirmative?

Of the many illness that plague modern-day evangelicalism, one of the most insidious is the idea that one can become a Christian by raising a hand in a gospel revival meeting, by signing a card, by going forward in a gospel “altar call,” or perhaps by repeating the magic words found in the “sinner's prayer.” This illness is called “Easy Believism.”

I once heard an “evangelistic message” in which the one giving the message said, “All you need to do is repeat this prayer after me in your heart and nothing else will be required of you.”

Repentance of sin was never mentioned. The word “sin" is rarely heard it in today's churches.

"Today, in the ranks of our Independent Baptist churches, we are overcome by the super salesmen ‘soulwinners' who pull professions out of lost souls with a promise that they will go to heaven on the basis of a little prayer and a profession of faith in Jesus. They follow the Hyles, Hutson, Gray, Vineyard, statement of faith and never know the reality of passing from death to life. The followers of these preachers of corruption are promising lost souls liberty where there is not liberty. . . . One "Easy-Believism" preacher, Jack Hyles of the large First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana, says that ‘sin does not have to be repented of, only forgotten.' ... I am afraid these preachers want to hide their sins instead of forget them." iii

Amazingly, the idea of repenting from your sin when you are brought by the Holy Spirit to faith and trust in Christ, as taught by those like John MacArthur, is often labeled as a legalistic and heretical promotion of a works salvation. This is astonishingly incomprehensible.

"To leave out or minimize repentance, no matter what sort of a faith you preach, is to prepare a generation of professors who are such in name only. I give it as my deliberate conviction, founded on 25 years of ministerial observation, that the Christian profession of today owes its lack of vital godliness, its want of practical piety, its absence from the prayer meeting, its miserable semblance of missionary life, very largely to the fact that old-fashioned repentance is so little preached. You can't put a big house on a little foundation. And no small part of such preaching comes from a class of modern evangelists who desiring more for their own glory to count a great number of converts than to lay deep foundations, reduce the conditions of salvation by 1/2 and make the other half but some intellectual trick of the mind rather than a radical spiritual change of the heart... . Such converts know but little and care less about a system of doctrine. They are prayerless, lifeless, and to all steady church work reprobate." iv

Evangelizing children is easy for the “Easy-Believism” crowd. This approach is something like, “Don't you want to see your grandmother again?” or, “Don't you want to live forever with your parents when you die?” Then, a call for a round of hand raising is made and most, if not all, the children hearing this gospel fraud raise their hands and they are counted as true conversions. The problem with this, says George Eager , “...that does not mean they are saved.  The Bible says that no one can be saved unless he repents. . . .  Repentance is being sorry enough for your sins to want to stop doing them."

Gospel presentations that do not wrestle with the terrible fact that man's sin is sending him straight to hell and one that implores men everywhere to repent of sin is fraudulence. Easy-believism preaching is not only fraudulent but it produces fraudulent conversions and people who are as hell-bound as they were before their fake conversions.

Horrifically, this has infected those preaching, those listening, those engaged in missionary endeavors, and those who are book authors. Evangelicalism has become a hoard of slick, smooth-talking frauds who show no sign of being made alive together with Christ. They scream from the rooftops that they are saved by believing in Jesus and yet fail to get the point that “faith without works is dead.” v

Recommended Reading: The Gospel According to Jesus: What Is Authentic Faith? John MacArthur

Acts 9:1–9, AV
Gaylon Wilson, Last Baptist Church
- B.H. Carroll, in Repentance and Remission of Sins
James 2: 14-26