HOLDING PENS FOR THE DAMNED
By: Pastor Chuck Morley
The other night I was working in my office when a visiting teenager came in to ask a question. He wanted to know my opinion on the role playing game Dungeons and Dragons. I told him that from what I understood about it that it had its roots in witchcraft and could possibly open him to demonic influence.
He went on to tell me that he and several of his friends play it several times a week with one of the teachers in the middle school he attends.
My question to him was simple, "Are you a Christian?" He responded quickly that he was. I came back with another question just a quickly. "How do you know?" He thought a minute, then declared, "Because I believe in God!" "The devil believes in God, does that make him a Christian?" "No, he isn't. But I go to church all the time." he said. Again I came back with, "So does the devil."
It doesn't matter which church we are affiliated with, a polling of the membership would determine that the vast majority of individual members believe themselves to be Christians. Albeit many have no certainty as to whether heaven or hell will be their eternal destination, they continually hold firmly to the idea that they are followers of Jesus Christ. The sad fact is, far too many have never had a life (eternity) changing experience with the God of the Bible.
Once they leave the confines of the church's four walls, their life style is no different than those who hold no claim to a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Others are good moral people, they may be dedicated workers in their church and faithful in their commitments to their families. Some are regarded as pillars of the community, they are honest and their integrity is unquestionable. Yet lack the most important element in hearing Jesus say, "Welcome in thou good and faithful servant." (Matthew. 25:21,23) They have never been truly born-again.
The Laodicean Church of today, heaped in an attitude of self-gratification and self-glorification, believe they have finally "arrived". They stand on the mountain top of church growth, planting their flags and banners and await the accolades of the rest of the religious world. Yet, they are without a clue that they have actually conquered nothing.
"In the mid 1990's, researcher George Barna startled the Christian community with what he termed: 'One of the rudest awakenings I have ever received in my efforts to help churches grow. It's simply this: Half of all adults who attend Protestant churches on a typical Sunday morning are not Christians.' Churches are filled with individuals who by reason of tradition, misinformation, demonic deception or something else have never come to the grace-based relationship with Jesus Christ. They are lost in the church" (Lost in Church, Jonathan R. Cash).
HOW EFFECTIVE IS OUR EVANGELISM
If you watch Christian television, the ministries never miss an opportunity for you to view a video clip of their latest crusade. It allows you to see a glimpse of their successful evangelism with countless numbers coming forward to receive Christ.
We listen as they are all led in what we have come to refer to as the "sinners prayer," then they are ushered into an adjacent room or tent to fill out "decision cards." A computer printout of the names and address of these new converts is forwarded to the local pastors for follow-up.
Over the years, I have been involved in several "follow-ups" of big ministries who have held crusades in our area, so the results I am about to relate to you, I know to be pretty accurate. A leading U.S. denomination published that during 1995 they secured 384,057 decisions, but retained only 22,983 in fellowship. They couldn't account for 361,074 supposed conversions. That's a ninety-four percent fall-away rate.
Pastor Dennis Grenell of Auckland, New Zealand, who has traveled to India every year since 1980, reported that he saw 80,000 decision cards stacked in a hut in the city of Rajamundry, the "results" of past evangelistic crusades. But he maintained that one would be fortunate to find even 80 Christians in the entire city.
Charles E. Hackett, the Division of Home Missions National Director for the Assemblies of God in the U.S, said, "A soul at the altar does not generate much excitement in some circles because we realize approximately ninety-five out of every hundred will not become intergrated into the church. In fact, most of them will not return for a second visit."
In Cleveland, Ohio, in an "Inner City Outreach," rejoicing no doubt tapered when those who were involved in follow-up once again couldn't find one of the 400 who had made a decision. In a 1990 crusade in the U.S., 600 decisions were obtained. No doubt there was much rejoicing. However, ninety days later, follow-up workers couldn't find even one who was continuing in his or her faith. That crusade created 600 "backsliders," or to be more scriptural, "false converts." (These 5 reports taken from Revival's Golden Key, Ray Comfort, Bridge Logos, pg. 63,64,65)
False converts are simply those who believe themselves to be a Christian, but by the standards of God's Word are not.
Today's postmodern and pragmatic churches, along with much of the Christian television networks are producing false converts on a exponential scale.
"These churches are numerically prospering and that numerical prosperity convinces many Christians that any criticism is inappropriate and diabolical... (But) if the largest church in the country says, "No Cross, No Sin, Not here!" are we to assume that their numerical success ends the conversation? Or is there a role for the critic in pointing out that a crowd of 25,000 gathered to NOT HEAR the Gospel isn't really a good thing? Are the ideas in these various movements going to be evaluated, or simply tested by their results? Some of the worst ideas in human history were numerically successful. I'm sure I don't need to elaborate." (Michael Spencer, Talk Hard)
According to the standards of the Word of God, No Sin + No Cross = No Hope, No Peace, No Salvation.
I watch the invitations given to receive Christ on many Christian television programs and I cringe as they attempt to make people believe that all they have to do is repeat a little prayer, believe it in their heart and they automatically become born-again.
I realize prayer, as well as faith, is an important part of the salvation process, however we have eliminated the biblical process in leading someone into the kingdom of God. Without certain biblical elements causing one to repeat the "sinners prayer" they do not receive salvation.
As a pastor, when someone comes forward during the invitation portion of the service for prayer, I always ask them to tell me what they want me to pray for. The reason is so that I can agree with them biblically. I'm not going to pray for something that violates scripture.
If they tell me that they have come to give their life to Jesus, again, I ask them why. You may ask, "Isn't it enough that they want to become a Christian? No, because if the Holy Spirit has not drawn them by convicting them of their sin, they cannot become born-again.
How many young people have come forward during youth camps, youth crusades and the like, only because they thought it the thing to do since everyone else went forward. They prayed the "sinner's prayer", they did and said everything their peers did, yet went back to their seats lost. And now they will be harder to reach because they were told that they are now born-again.
Even adults, who, because of a hell, fire and brimstone message delivered without mentioning the fire quenching power of grace, walked the isle for the wrong reason. It shouldn't surprise us that one month later they could not be found.
A pastor once told me that one of the easiest places to get converts was at a funeral service. He used the loss of a loved one to bring people forward. His plan of attack was, "If you ever want to see momma (or daddy) again you had better come forward and receive Christ as your Savior." Many have come forward during his invitations, however, they returned to their seats unchanged spiritually, and still lost eternally. Why? Because Jesus didn't die so we could see momma again. He did not endure the cross so we could get our wife or husband back. He didn't lay down his life in order for us to get out of debt or feel good about ourselves by raising our self-esteem.
Countless times, during invitations, I have watched family members plead, harass and sometimes physically escort their lost or backslid relatives to the front. Not having a clue that they are doing more harm than good. For the most part the only reason the relative came forward was to free themselves of the family members control.
In the first chapter of the book of Matthew, Joseph, Mary's betrothed, discovers she is expecting a child and that child is not his. The word tells us that Joseph, being a just man and not wanting to publicly embarrass her, decided to end the engagement secretly. An angel of the Lord appeared to him and let him know it was God's will that they marry and went on to explain that the child was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Verse 21 gives us the primary purpose for God coming to mankind in the flesh. "And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."
If we refuse to preach against sin and cry out the warning of it's eternal punishment; if we will not proclaim the bondage breaking power of the spotless Lamb of God along with the biblical requirements for receiving it, we are not building churches, we are building holding pens for the damned. "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves." (Matthew 23:15)
CONVICTION - GUILT OR CONDEMNATION
In this age of building beliefs on out of context scriptures, matched by our inability to rightly divide or properly discern God's Word, as well as our never ending pursuit of happiness rather than holiness, we have probably done more damage to building the Kingdom of God than any other age before us.
One of the gravest errors we make is not understanding the Gospel truth concerning condemnation, guilt and conviction.
In our attempt to make people happy and justified in their sin, we preach a gospel that is completely void of any anything that would make our congregations uncomfortable. We have all but eliminated any messages that the Holy Spirit could use to convict our hearts and turn us to Jesus. Then we compound our error by presenting a gospel that equates guilt with condemnation, which is completely in violation of scripture.
Guilt is not our problem; sin is. Guilt to the spirit of man is like what pain is to the physical body. It is a manifestation or symptom of a much more serious problem. When we visit the doctor, we are more concerned with him dealing with our pain than in discovering it's cause. Yet, without our allowing the physician to examine our physical bodies, he can not effectively treat the cause, the prognosis may very well be terminal.
Guilt lets us know we have offended our God and King. We become astutely aware of the fact that we have disregarded His instructions and sinned. Through the Word, the Holy Spirit brings us to the realization that something is seriously wrong. His treatment is always repentance, and without it, the prognosis is always the same - death.
Conviction (not condemnation) and guilt go hand in hand. One of the greatest soul winners of the 19th century, Charles Spurgeon writes, "There can be no grace where there is no guilt... You are such a kind people that, out of complement to religion you say, 'Yes, we are all sinners.' But you know in your hearts you do not mean it. You will never ask for grace (power); for you have no sense of shame or guilt."
Over and over in the Word we see examples of guilt brought on by the Holy Spirit's conviction of sin. "Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself. God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased: and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted." (Luke 18:10-14)
My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear. (Psalms 38:4 NIV)
Holy Spirit conviction is God's sovereign, merciful call for sinners to respond to His Word and come to repentance.
He leads us to Jesus, who waits for us ready and willing to pour out His grace, forgiveness and justification.
"And when he (Holy Spirit) is come, he will reprove (convict, convince) the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:" (John 16:8) A candidate for salvation, who comes forward without first being summoned by the Spirit via conviction, CAN NOT BE SAVED. Jesus told His disciples, "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him:..." Holy Spirit conviction is the drawing of God the Father to His Son's grace and propitiation for our sins.
John 6:65-66 tells us, "And he (Jesus) said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father. From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him." The primary reason we see so many new church members never make it through the first year, is due to the fact many never received the call of Christ through conviction. They are false converts. They could have come forward to follow Him for any number of reasons, but they did not come on biblical terms. So, when their own strength and will power could not hold them, they abandoned ship. Conviction also brings us to a place of sorrow and anguish, of brokenness and crushing. "The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit." (Psalms 34:18) In the Hebrew, the word broken literally means to be broken into many pieces. The word contrite means to crush into powder. This extreme should convince us that no other remedy can afford us relief; there is no hope in putting the pieces back together or solidifying the powder of our crushed spirit. Without divine intervention, without a miracle of God, our situation is completely hopeless. This is the result of coming face to face with our sin and realizing that our disobedience is an offense to a Holy God.
This kind of brokenness and Godly sorrow is simply unheard of in the postmodern church. It seems we have been content to plant churches not to different from that of the spirit of the Pharisee.
Listen to what he said about himself in Luke 18. "I'm a pretty good person, I'm not like other men. I don't commit adultery, I'm not an extortioner, I go to church and I pay my tithes. I don't see any reason to moan and groan like that crazy publican." All he could present to a holy God was everything he perceived to be right about himself.
This Pharisee knew the law, he could quote it from beginning to end, but he had never allowed the truth of the law to reveal his sin in order for the Holy Spirit to convict his heart and allow Jesus to save him. In the mind set of the Emergent Church, with their candles, couches, and Conversation Theology, see no need for repentance either. They believe themselves to be OK, and an asset to God's Kingdom. They're positive thinkers and refuse to consider anything about themselves that does not reinforce their delusion of self-righteousness and self-worth. Any attempts on the Spirit's part to call them to repentance is quickly rejected as condemnation.
But John warns us. "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us... If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us." (1 John 1:8,10) In my research the other day I found a website entitled Acts 17:11. In it the authors, Dean and Laura VanDruff, wrote an amusing parable that sums up the mentality of many of our evangelical churches.
The "Positive" Hospital Parable
"Imagine a doctor in a clean, well lit hospital having the following dialog with a patient: "What seems to be the problem?" The patient replies, "My fingers are great." "Good, but what is wrong with you." "Well, my feet are really felling fantastic." "Fine, but this is a hospital, what can we do for you?" "Well, let me brag about my legs, I have been walking on them all day!" "Great, but this is a place of healing. Around here, we focus on what is wrong so that we can make you fully healthy. Now then, where does it hurt?" Now imagine the patient saying: "That isn't very positive, I would rather talk about what is right about me" or "I think I'll find a new hospital. I feel so "sick" here, everyone seems to be so judgmental and faultfinding."
Or, on the contrary, imagine a more needy patient going into a hospital and begging for help for a particular problem, and having the doctor say, "Don't condemn yourself by admitting you have a problem, I don't receive that, brother! Let's focus on the positive. Besides, we are having a cheerful conversation about how great the hospital administrator is..."
The church should function as a spiritual hospital. A place for sinners to come and be healed. But more often, in modern Christianity, churches have become places where people are affirmed in their sickness, or worse still where sick people brag about self-wellness."
FUNDAMENTAL PERCEPTION SHIFT
"Fundamental Perception Shift," 26 letters, forming 3 words that mean absolutely nothing. But they are pretty consistent with today's society in the way we put big titles on things to impress and to sway the uninformed and unlearned. It is no different within the church, in this age of spiritual apostasy.
While flipping through the "church channels" the other night I heard the word "repentance", so I stopped long enough to hear what was being taught. Paraphrased, the man's explanation went something like this: "Repentance!" he said, "Is not crying, weeping or laying on your face begging God to forgive you!" "Repentance is - I looked it up, it means Fundamental Perception Shift."
Basically what I understood him to explain about this impressive title for repentance, was that we now must begin to see ourselves differently. We should only focus on the positive - the good things about us.
I don't know where the man searched when he "looked it up", but I could not find this particular phrase anywhere in regards to repentance. I wrote an email to his ministry asking for any additional information, but never received a reply.
However, if you will look closely at his revelation and what be believes repentance to be, it will bring you right back to the Pharisee. Remember, he did not judge himself by the standard of God's Word. He looked at himself in comparison to what others did or did not do.
Fundamental means, "to form a foundation." The root word of perception is perceive. The New World Dictionary of American English defines perceive as: "To grasp mentally; to become aware (of) through sight, hearing, touch, taste or smell." Shift basically means to move, change or exchange.
Now lets put this new revelation together. "Repentance is changing the foundation of how I see myself. Therefore I must exchange the standard of God's Holy Writ (the true foundation) and begin seeing myself from man's corrupted natural intellect (mental, sight, hearing, touch taste and smell). Can this work? Can this new revelation save us and free us from the guilt, the bondage and the death penalty of sin? NO! A thousand times - NO! If I judge spiritual things by a natural standard, the results will ALWAYS be WRONG. "Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 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 13-14) To the Pharisee, crying and weeping (godly sorrow worketh repentance, a broken heart and a contrite spirit), laying on the floor while begging God for forgiveness (smote his breast) is foolishness. He can not understand them because spiritual things are always spiritually discerned and deliberately hidden from the natural man.
Far too many within the church have an intellectual knowledge of God, but have never had a spiritual, life changing experience with Him.
We know and understand "the plan of salvation," but we have never had an experience with the man of salvation. The plan is theory - the man is reality! This type of intellectual, natural (carnal), compromising theology has spawned a generation of church members Jesus describes in Matthew 15. "Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." (Matthew 15:7-9) Their thinking may have been touched, but their hearts remain unchanged and they remain lost.
Realizing that genuine repentance can only be accomplished having first received God sent, Holy Spirit administered conviction of sin, the next step to biblical salvation is making the eternal turn.
In chapter 26 of Acts, the prisoner Paul stands before king Agrippa, his only defense was his Damascus Road testimony and an explanation of his divine calling by Jesus Christ, "...to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins ...should repent and turn to God, and do works meet (suitable, worthy) for repentance." (Acts 2618,20)
First, turn from sin. "...a man will never have the pardon of sin while he is in love with his sin. There must be a hatred of sin, a loathing of it, a turning from it. Repentance is a revolution in dealing with our attitude and view towards sin and righteousness... Sin must become, in the eyes of the sinner, exceedingly sinful. (Rick Miesel, Repentance, Biblical Discernment Ministries) The gospel of this age presents new methodologies that believes it can co-exist with worldliness and carnality. We have replaced the preaching of the cross, holiness and a separated life with theatrics, concerts and a carnival atmosphere. Changing the methods, many have been deceived into thinking, does not compromise the message.
I'm sorry, but bringing the world and the things of the world into our worship services has always compromised the truth, holiness and purity of the message of genuine repentance.
Secondly, we must turn to God and Him only. We must come to know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His suffering and be made conformable to His death.
The new methodologies and compromised gospel of this age can never offer a relationship with the true and living God. Through His Word He has given us His requirements to know Him, to be in Him and to remain in Him. He will not share us with the god of this age, He will not co-exist with the god of this age and he will not direct His Spirit to lead us to the god of this age.
It's time for the John the Baptists to stand in the midst of a compromising backslid generation with a message of genuine repentance. "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." It's time for the Timothy's to: "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables." ( 2 Timothy 4:2-4) It's time for the church member to understand that in these last days, "...evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived." ( 2 Timothy 3:13)
"Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God ,for he will abundantly pardon." (Isaiah 55:7)
"Brethren, we shall not adjust our Bible to the age, but the age to the Bible." (Charles Spurgeon)