A loud voice continues to emerge in some parts of Christianity, with a heart for the spiritually lost, concerned that Christians are failing to fulfill our commission, afraid that our friends, family, and communities are going to hell, and confident that the church is to blame (at least in large part).
In classic American entrepreneurial spirit, many pastors and other church leaders have recognized the problem (namely, people don’t seem to be coming to Christ or to church), concluded that our formula for evangelism must be flawed or faulty, and then created new approaches, strategies, and programs. Well meaning sheep who also have a heart for the lost see flashes of success when all kinds of unbelievers flock to these fresh, imaginative, creative, emerging churches.
But just because something sounds good doesn’t mean it is according to sound doctrine, and I wonder if we are discerning enough to suspect if what seems like success might actually be a spiritual wreck.
In fact, it is a wreck. And most of all this wreck has wrought significant damage to the preaching and pursuit of personal sanctification. Making disciples has been limited to conversion and building up the saints is apparently not only unnecessary, it is actually a hindrance to reaching unbelievers. Of course that approach tears down the church even if attendance numbers increase.
As I mentioned in the previous post our commission is not just conversion. The Great Commission is not fulfilled by making a great number of converts but disciples. Those who repent and believe must also be taught to observe everything that Christ commanded. That means God’s mission is broader than evangelism, it also requires edification and equipping, so God gave gifted men to the church to equip the saints for the work of ministry.
Churches and ministries focused primarily on conversion may be strong on justification but are often silent when it comes to sanctification. This is visible both in the methodology of the leaders as well as the lifestyle of the flock. Herein pastors contextualize the gospel and rationalize every sort of flesh-pampering, sin-minimizing, cross-eclipsing outreach. The people are comfortable because the standards are low and the accountability absent.
I think at least four overlapping problems surface in these situations.
- Little to no emphasis on sanctification and obedience. However, sanctification is God’s will (1 Thessalonians 4:3) for every believer. As obedient children we must be holy as He is holy in all our conduct (1 Peter 1:14-16). Disciples must learn to obey all the Lord commands (Matthew 28:19-20) not merely confess Him as Lord.
- Lack of love for heaven and eternity. Yet those who have been raised with Christ are commanded to seek and set their minds on things above (Colossians 3:1-2). We are to rest our hope fully on coming grace at the revelation of Christ (1 Peter 1:13) and anticipate our final salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:5). We are merely exiles (1 Peter 1:1; 2:11) 1on earth; our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20).
- Inability to recognize and repent from sin. But there is no knowledge of truth (2 Timothy 2:25), no forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38), no hope of eternal life (Acts 11:18), or salvation (2 Corinthians 7:10) without repentance. Besides, Jesus did not come to make it possible for men to enjoy sin but to save sinners (Mark 2:17) from it.
- Unwillingness to define and distinguish worldliness. Yet Jesus declared we are not of the world (John 17:16). Christians should be busy turning the world upside down (Acts 17:16) not trying to adopt as much of it as we can get away with. We’re prohibited from loving the world or the things in the world (1 John 2:15-17) because we know friendship with the world is enmity with God (James 4:4). Instead we are [crucified to the world] and should no longer live [conformed to it].
And so any method of making disciples that does not emphasize increasing Christlike holiness is not following the Great Commission. Not only that, it is wrong to think that we will persuade men to love God by serving their idols. Let’s not be guilty of letting men think they can keep their life, gain the whole world, and still save their souls.