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"The Idol of Evangelism"

It is hard to imagine a more controversial title for this article. For all the fervency for getting the gospel out into the streets, something has been lost. Modern evangelism attempts to turn tares into wheat instead of harvesting the growth God has given. The pervasiveness of this concern has caused the evangelical community to mold and shape evangelism into an idol. For many, the church's primary goal is now to lead whomever they can in "the sinners' prayer". The consequence of such a belief is a lackadaisical approach, if not a disparaging view of theology. As such, we will divide the subject into two parts: 1) the separation between evangelizing and learning who God is, and 2) the errors of training new converts to be evangelists.

Carl F. Henry once said, "numerical bigness has become an infectious epidemic." The numerical bigness that he' is referring to is what is called the "seeker-sensitive movement". This movement has at its center a desire to do away with (or at least alter) the church's basic and foundational dogmas in favor of accommodating "seekers" (aka "unbelievers) as they attempt to find more common ground to work with seekers and bring them into the "church". This may sound like an effective approach (and with regard to growth in numbers it may very well be). But all that is really being done is a mass relocation of unbelievers from one area to another. They may be in a church, but that does not make them believers. When you accommodate unbelievers, they'll remain unbelievers.

There is a corresponding "qualitative effect" on the kind of evangelism that only takes into consideration quantitative issues—a declining effect. In other words, if we accept "numerical bigness" as the number one priority, the church must conform to the image of the world so the world can see something of itself in us. Therefore, claiming that this approach is to "do away with the church's foundational dogmas," is not an exaggeration. Take for example Robert Schueller's quote "If you want to know how to build a church, ask the community, and give them what they want." We have traded in the "imago dei" (image of God) for the "imago mundi" (image of the world). Rather than God directing our paths and informing us of His eternal truths, we have engaged in theological play-doh where it can be molded into whatever we want it to be. It becomes a man-centered theology.

This line of thinking comes in part out of the failure to distinguish between the visible church and the invisible church. Scripture is not shy about making such a distinction (cf. Mt 7:21-24; Mt. 3:12; Mt. 13:24-25). Without an understanding that God exercises sovereign election over the totality of salvation, the church misses the truth that salvation is by "faith alone; but not a faith that is alone." Because of the necessity sanctification, we must go through a life-long struggle of reforming our broken image and breaking our knees that they bend in submission to Christ. Conversion is not the end, but the beginning of being a Christian. The only way this sanctification occurs is through God's Word as we let Him define Himself and what it is that He wants from us. With a proper reading of Scripture the church would better understand the peace that comes from election. This is not just an internal peace but also a peace that pervades all of life.

We need not stress over evangelistic methodology because Christ gave us a very simple method to use that is always 100% effective: Preach His Word. Now, preaching His Word may not be 100% effective in making converts, but it is 100% guaranteed to glorify God. Sadly, even glorifying God seems to take a back seat to evangelizing.

Because the doctrine of election is so unpopular among churches today (and the congregate is always right!) we throw it out. We do all we can to appease the unbeliever. We bargain with them and exchange God's truth for their lies. But what we fail to realize is what R.C. Sproul stated: "only believers are seekers". There really is no such thing as a seeker-sensitive movement because "there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God" (Rom 3:11). One might well substitute "seeker-sensitive movement" with "God-hater-sensitive movement" because that's what all of us are without the Holy Spirit.

Romans 3:11 brings up an interesting point. There is an essential connection between believing and knowing God. But the church's abandonment of foundational dogmas has subverted the church's interest in theology. Specifically, theology has been characterized as an ivory tower study meant only for academicians. It merely tickles the mind but has no place in the heart or the mission field. Yet, what is theology? Is it not the tools needed to get to know the very God the church wants people to accept? How can we be satisfied with having faith in a God who is a stranger? How can we expect others to?

Despite this, churches today are scrambling to turn every convert into an evangelist as quickly as possible, regardless of their level of maturity. The "life-verse" of these churches is, of course, the Great Commission:

"Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Matthew 28:16-20

Seeing salvation as a single moment in time rather than a lifetime of transformation is not what Jesus had in mind when he gave the Great Commission. The command is not to go out and make converts; rather, it is to go out and make disciples! There is a vast difference between a new convert and a disciple. To be a disciple is to be a pupil under tutelage from his master. In essence, it is to be a student of theology. Perhaps not everyone ought to be a seminary student, but by basic definition, every Christian is a theologian. He is a student of God and of Jesus Christ. His duty is, first and foremost, to know Him. To abandon the study of theology in favor of turning new converts into new evangelists will most likely result in sending out a great number of confessing unbelievers. You cannot believe in someone you do not know.

While they mere hear about such basics as Christ's work on the cross, that is something God DID, not who He IS. If we do not understand His righteousness, His sovereignty, His wrath, and most importantly His Holiness, how can we understand what the cross truly meant? Indeed, we cannot.

Therefore, throwing new converts into evangelistic missions before they are ready is to commit the same act as King Saul when he threw a soldier's uniform on young David. Saul tried to dress him as a soldier. But David rejected Saul's preparation. He took off that armor and, in faith, picked up stones from the stream. David won the fight first and foremost by his knowledge of God and the faith that accompanies that knowledge; the knowledge that God is sovereign and everlasting through all cultural changes. In the same way, we must resist the temptation to substitute man's methods for godly preparation.

We do not need a new missionary trend. We are not desperate for warrior converts. We certainly don't need a new theology. What we need is what we have always needed since the Fall of Man—God's eternal Word that is grounded in unchanging eternity. God will take care of the numbers. We are merely His instruments, not His advisers.

"But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." John 1:12-13

- Jason Bader