Friday, January 2, 2009

Modern Evangelism: Decorating the Portals of Hell

Having grown up in church and being exposed to “modern evangelicalism” my whole life, I guess, like many, I have become numbed to the gradual slide from orthodoxy and have grown tolerant of the heretical, feel-good, man-centered gospel that permeates much of modern Christianity.

That became evident to me not long ago in a memorial service for one of our former residents in the home for the elderly.

Tom had been a resident for a few years. Several members of his family are currently serving as pastors and church leaders in various ministries. Over the years they (and we) had made several unsuccessful attempts to bring him to an understanding of his need for a savior. He was an intelligent, educated man but, to the frustration of his family, Tom had rejected the gospel his whole life.

Then I heard the news that, in his last few days, he “accepted the Lord.” At the memorial service there was much celebrating as everyone comforted themselves with the assurance that their beloved patriarch “slipped peacefully into the loving arms of Jesus” as he expired his final breath and that they would all see him again in that great “reunion in the sky by and by.”

It was during that service that I was suddenly shocked by the accounting of his alleged deathbedside “profession of faith.” One of the family members described how he appealed to Tom to consider his late wife and others in the family who had gone on before and those who would follow him. They were all Christians and were all going to heaven. “Tom,” he said, “this is your last chance. Don’t you want to see your wife again when you die?” Don’t you want to spend eternity with your family in heaven?”

“Yes, I do,” Tom replied.

“Then why don’t you just ask Jesus into your life right now? Would you like to do that?” he asked.

“Yes,” said Tom.

Then he invited Tom to repeat this prayer. “Dear Jesus, I believe in you. Thank you for dying for me. I accept you into my life. Amen.”

That was it. With assurance, on the basis of that prayer, Tom slipped into eternity with a false hope.

During this Christmas season, in another place, I heard a similar “gospel invitation” described like this;

Salvation is a decision that each one of us must make and it is as simple as saying a simple prayer. Then, in a typical Rick Warrenesque style prayer the pastor led the congregation in a similar version of “the sinners prayer.”

“Dear Lord Jesus, Come into my life; forgive me of my sins. Thank you for forgiving me of my sins. I want to make you Lord of my life.”

At that point, he asked his audience if anyone had prayed that simple prayer for the first time, to let him know so that he could welcome them into the family of God.

I thought about the gospel appeal as described at Tom's memorial service. What was the object? What was the compelling argument for faith? It was just the hope of heaven and the reunion of the family. There was nothing about Jesus or the forgiveness of sin or his need for a savior. As I looked around the room, I noticed that there were several who had never heard the gospel and this memorial service was a lost opportunity.

From time to time, as administrator, I am asked to officiate memorial services. And I am always mindful of the threefold purpose of those events; to honor the memory of the deceased, to comfort those who grieve, and, most importantly, to proclaim our hope in the living Savior. All of that should be done with love and sensitivity but it must be done in TRUTH.

I think it was John MacArthur who said, “everyone wants heaven; they just don’t want God.”

Note: In the interest of accuracy, I am uncertain about the origin of the quote above that I attributed to John MacArthur. Josh at Truth Matters has informed me that he has often heard Paul Washer say, "Everyone wants to go to heaven, they just don't want God to be there when they get there."


Daisy said...

That is so terribly heart-breaking.

What an admonishment to share our faith with boldness instead of watered-down platitudes.

Warren said...

it could be a great opportunity to point people of their sins that would lead them to repentance. great post!

Mark Pierson said...

It is disgusting how much of this kind of simple, just say these words after me, evangelism goes on these days.

Ralph M. Petersen-Always Right; Sometimes Wrong! said...

You're right; it is disgusting. But what is worse is, I've noticed how quickly some of these "conversion collectors" almost always move immediately to trying to convince the new convert about "eternal security." They instruct them to never doubt, once you're in you never have to worry about it.
I call them "one point Calvinists." They detest and dispise the other four doctrines of grace but they love this one.
It's a scary thought.

Ron Livesay said...

Of course, "one-point Calvinists" are "four-point Arminians."