The previous post discussed the incomplete discussion of the idea of works and grace using the work of Bryan Chapell. A lot of the issue is relating obedience as the requirement of the Lord, when faith has always been the requirement of the Christian (Romans 3:22-24). Faith is belief in God’s words which reflects action, not just mere assent. Pursuing Christ as to works is always a mistake (Romans 9:32), as is saying “I have works, therefore I have faith”. As it is written, without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). It could be said that the burden of faith is not a reflection of doing the right things, but making the right choices. In the end, obedience is not the issue, but the reasons we obey are the issue. To that end, Chapell was completely correct in his assessment of generating a works-based religion by pushing obedience, but neglects that obedience should be a fruit of our choices.
The problem with those Chapell takes issue with, as well as Chapell himself is pushing works as the whole issue, when it should be a belief that spurs results. Admittedly, pushing a works-based view is much easier, but lazy. As Paul writes: “by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” (1 Corinthians 15:9-11) This is notable in several of the Scriptures, including a number of Jesus’ own teachings. For this post, Matthew 18:21-35 is a useful teaching that will illustrate a choice in faith as opposed to works.
Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. (Matthew 18:21-22)
Jesus starts out with a simple command as Master, one that we can easily relay into works and quit. But Jesus goes on to tell a parable, which is instructive:
Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. (Matthew 18:23-27)
There are no coincidences on why certain things appear in Scripture and the fact that Jesus felt more needed to be said is instructive (note that “kingdom of heaven” phrase). We are presented with a story with some choices, reflective of the Gospel. Most will not need much explanation for a venue such as a blog post, so I’ll just present them with some brief descriptions.
1. We can choose/not choose to acknowledge the debt before us. This is a choice relating to the sin debt we all possess. Most Christians of all thought will recognize those who are at this point of choice to be “unsaved”, though there’s more to it than that Scripturally.
2. We can choose/not choose to acknowledge the debt can’t be paid. Notably the word “ten thousand” here is murioi (G3463) which means “innumerably many”. The main point behind the story is that it’s a big debt that can’t be paid. There are “Christian” faith traditions that believe that accepting Christ involves getting a second-chance to “get the works right this time” or that it involves the opportunity to “work the debt off” instead of having to pay up all at once. This is the danger that Chapell was addressing rightfully in his work. When we realize that we can never do or pay anything of ourselves, the gateway to mercy and grace begins to open up.
3. We can choose/not choose to believe we are forgiven freely. The consequences of these choices become more endemic to those who are in churches now. The fact that we are given grace and mercy is something that is foolish to our minds, as we expect and even turn the things of love and grace into obligation (the main defect with marriage that renders it vile). Religion, as always, is an opportunity for wicked men to control others and burden them under yokes (Matthew 23:3-4) instead of show the way to freedom from the burden of sin outside of Christ (Matthew 11:30). In other words, this is the fullness of realizing that our works don’t get us anywhere with the Lord. Unfortunately, so many that call upon the Lord are trapped in trying to “measure up” to God (what the sin/Law standard in fact is), when it simply can never be done.
But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. (Matthew 18:28-30)
4. We can choose/not choose to respond in full belief of the mercy/grace we are given. This choice is where the common Churchian of today fails. The idea that in turn nothing is required of us is what is turning the vast majority of those who profess Christ into reprobates. We were bought by Christ’s blood (Hebrews 9:14) in order to pay the debt, so we become His. This is the matter of faith set before us, and the requirement of us. If we wish to be counted dead in Christ to be raised to newness of life, then our actions need to reflect it. To explain the issue, simple obedience isn’t the issue, it’s that we obey for the right reasons in recognition of what has been done for us. In other words, we can do all the right things and still fail for wrong reasons. We will always fail in perfect obedience, but we can always measure up in perfect motivations towards him.
So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. (Matthew 18:31-34)
Note the result of the servant’s actions – the result of a incorrect faith. Note how the Lord in the story puts it: It’s not that the servant failed to forgive, it’s that he failed to recognize what the Lord has done for him! This is always our measure, and the main concern of our Lord constantly in Scripture: “That they may know who I am”. This is where the whole “relationship with Jesus” line started, though blown into a complete false gospel by the implications of the word “relationship” as Jesus’ own concept (discipleship) used throughout Scripture was cast aside.
So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses. (Matthew 18:35)
And here lies the application to us. It’s not a warning to obey, but a call to faith. The simple question is reiterated by Jesus and others throughout the whole New Testament (Matthew 25 being another example). It’s not “Have you obeyed?”, but “What have you done with what I have given you?” This question applies to both issues of mercy and grace.
Have you responded in a way to bring fruit to the kingdom? Or have you responded in such a way to trample the blood of Christ? This is the issue that is neglected in the pulpits today.
One of my interests of late when I could do it (that’s a long story I need to tell here sometime) has been tracking down some of the instructional materials that the professional preachers are exposed to in seminaries. One of the more popular ones seems to be Christ-Centered Preaching by Bryan Chapell, echoing a popular idea of the moment echoed by the title.
As this book is published in 1994, written by a former president of Covenant Theological Seminary (Presbyterian), and accepted in most preaching schools, the ideas in it would seem reflective of common preaching we are witness to today. While a book review didn’t seem proper overall, Chapell’s focus on “Christ-centered preaching” turned out to be something worthy of examination. It is fraught with problems, and unfortunately Chapell’s other big problem in this book (literary diarrhea, this commentary is about over 40 pages of his book, and I have 3 pages of typed quotes copied out) will cause difficulty in presenting succinct quotes reflecting his position and has delayed this post.
Chapell spends the last two chapters of the book detailing this “Christ-centered” focus and the errors he believes are commonly made by other pastors in preparing their sermons. Most notably, this focuses on the idea that people will inadvertently be focused on the idea of a works-based religion instead of a grace-based religion.
A message that merely advocates morality and compassion remains sub-Christian even if the preacher can prove that the Bible demands such behaviors. By ignoring the sinfulness of man that makes even our best works tainted before God and by neglecting the grace of God that makes obedience possible and acceptable, such messages necessarily subvert the Christian message. Christian preachers often do not recognize this impact of their words because they are simply recounting a behavior clearly specified in the text in front of them. But a message that even inadvertently teachers others that their works win God’s acceptance inevitably leads people away from the gospel. (1)
Scripture includes many instructions that are often preached as conditions for divine approval. Such preaching errs not by detailing what God requires but by implying or directly stating that God’s favor is a consequence of our obedience rather than proclaiming that obedience itself is a blessing that results from the favor God purchased for us in Christ. Divine love made conditional upon human obedience is mere legalism even if the actions commended have biblical precedent. The only obedience approved by God is that which he himself has sanctified through the work of Christ . . . (2)
To preach matters of faith or practice without rooting their foundation or fruit in what God would do, has done, or will do through the ministry of Christ creates a human-centered (anthropocentric) faith without Christian distinctions. Truly Christian preaching must proclaim, [Romans 8:1-2]. (3)
His answer is that all Scripture be preached in relationship to “the redeeming work of God” (4). Much of the problem of Chapell’s approach is like he says of most preachers: What is said is not as much the problem as what isn’t being said. The danger of what isn’t being said has turned most churches that preach off this pattern into apostate entities and those within into complete reprobates. In effect, the interest in Chapell’s work is that much of it is behind the false gospel of the Personal Jesus that we witness in churches today. The rest of this post aims to address the issues caused by such doctrine in doing violence to the true gospel of Jesus Christ.
I. Christ-centered preaching completely removes the requirements upon men.
Chapell’s Christ-centered preaching model, in coming out against anything that seems like “human-works” (5) completely removes any requirements that the Lord places upon men, universally proclaiming them all righteous. Notably, such a position removes Our Lord’s own emphasis on discipleship and requirements. While I can relate a lot of Scriptures which indicate this requirement, the most straightforward is to note that the righteous are justified by faith and not their works (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; Romans 3:28; Galatians 2:16; Galatians 3:11; Galatians 3:24; Hebrews 10:38).
Much of the surrounding Scriptures point to Chapell’s position, but the faith requirement for justification is entirely lost in Chapell’s vilification of the idea that humans have any requirements set before them. To dispel that faith has anything to do merely with a verbal assent and not actions, we are corrected of this in James 2:24 and in Romans 6:1-2. A faith followed up by appropriate actions is a requirement. In fact, it could be said that the requirements for us were raised substantially from the requirement of the Law: ALL. Such costs are accentuated by Our Lord Himself (Luke 14:25-33). Why should we ever think after reading Scripture completely that the Lord requires absolutely nothing of us at all (6), when we are given a standard that we can meet out of our own selves?
II. Christ-centered preaching misplaces the object of proper faith.
Chapell’s model, in pointing to the idea of the grace given by the Cross, points towards the improper Christ.
When believers see that the whole of Scripture–the entire sweep of Biblical revelation–is a stage for the portrayal of grace, their hearts respond in awe and humility. Such responses ground messages of worship and obedience in their proper motivations and make the application of all biblical truth the fruit of thanksgiving, praise, gratitude, and loving service. Christ-centered preaching does not abolish the normative standards of Christian conduct, but rather locates their source in the compelling power of grace. The rules of obedience do not change, the reasons do. (7)
In doing this, the idea of Christ-centered preaching points backwards instead of forwards as the Scriptures do (1 Peter 5:4; Colossians 3:3-4; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10; Matthew 25:31-46; 2 Peter 3:10-12; 2 Timothy 4:8; Titus 2:12; 1 John 2:28; 1 John 3:2). This causes numerous problems of application to be addressed later. The expectant Christian in Chapell’s system looks backwards to the Cross instead of forwards to the appearing of Christ, causing not Chapell’s indicated result, but something much different. It produces a different gospel that does not change conduct in holy fear of Christ’s return (e.g. the “day of the Lord”, Book of Revelation), but tramples all over the blood of Christ in trying to avoid even the appearance of any requirement upon men.
Simply put: Do you believe that YOU are dead of the flesh (and to sin) but alive in Christ, and reserve yourself to be raised in the final days to everlasting life? Your actions will follow this belief in faith.
III. Christ-centered preaching removes the centrality of God and puts it upon man.
In focusing backwards towards the Cross, it does indeed abolish the normative standards of Christian conduct. This is done by Chapell’s device of the Fallen Condition Focus (or FCF). It creates an individualism by which Scripture is applied to the lives of the people, instead of the lives of the people being applied to Scripture. This creates the self-reflexive worship common to Christianity today in
the Personal Jesus through the idea of the “personal relationship with Jesus”, and follows in the footsteps common to Gnosticism. Effectively, this creates an individualized gospel and an individualized salvation endemic to the individual’s view of Jesus, instead of upholding a universal gospel and standard (Ephesians 4:4-6). It creates an environment where everyone does what is right in his own eyes, not one where Jesus is rightfully King and Lord. This also has a side-effect of rendering Scripture antiquated, as anything that one in this frame of thought can not apply to themselves in their own reason, thought, and experience and will reject it as most women have when it comes to marriage.
IV. Christ-centered preaching removes the fear of the Lord.
It is not a surprise that the concept of fear is wholly vilified in the idea of Christ-centered preaching. When Christ is dispelled as both Lord and Master, the idea of One to whom accountability is required becomes verboten, and fear of that accountability becomes verboten as well. Fear from a lack of faith or lack of obedience can easily be confused for the proper fear of the Lord as indicated throughout Scripture (Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 9:10; Job 28:28; Psalm 111:10; Psalm 112:1; Ecclesiastes 12:13).
Bunyan’s realization reflects the understanding that characterizes the applications of Christ-centered preaching. Since every instruction of Scripture functions within the frame of God’s explanation and provision of his redemptive work, we must use grace to urge others to implement what we expound. Grace does not merely aid righteous conduct, it aids in the apprehension of the unerring love of God that makes human righteousness possible. If obedience is merely a defensive posture our listeners assume to avert divine wrath or curry divine favor, then human holiness is but a euphemism for selfishness. Self-protection and self-promotion are sad substitutes for “glorifying God and enjoying him forever,” but the former alternatives are the definite products of lives devoted to God out of servile dread and slavish fear.
If logic and Scripture both make it apparent that selfish fear is a greater menace to holiness than the assurance of love, why does the debate persist over whether threat of guilt or promise of grace better stimulates holiness? The simple answer is that preachers feel the need for a corrective. We wonder how we can compel others, or even ourselves, to pursue righteousness if we do not threaten rejection, promise retribution, or impose guilt. We recognize that each of these approaches is powerfully suasive, and in the secrecy of our hearts question, What reason will God’s people have to obey if all we do is keep assuring them of his love? (8)
One should never deny the idea that God’s love can never be earned or denied. However, God’s favor, including his salvation, should never be confused with his lack of love. Judgment is often referred to “God’s strange work”, because of His nature. Judgment is often deferred out of the Lord’s love, for “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) Judgment is never eliminated on the cause of God’s love, even for those in the house of God, for we are reminded that “judgment must begin at the house of God” (1 Peter 4:17). There are many that will be reminded that “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21-23). God does not judge with joy but with sadness.
Given the gospel of the Personal Jesus, unfortunately it is lost on many that our Lord is a holy God who must be approached according to His own way in a holy fear. Anything outside of it will not be met with approval but with rejection.
The idea of grace has been dragged through the sewer in the recent history of the church, and the model of Christ-centered preaching presented by people such as Chapell and adopted by many has been what has done it. The idea of the Law is compared with the idea of grace, outside of the Scriptural idea of faith. Ultimately a false gospel is produced whereby violence is done to the true message of the Gospel. Grace bestowed is something that is not to use as a free license against God (Romans 6:1-7), but something that demands an effect (1 Corinthians 15:9-11) born out of faith reflected by the work of the Cross in anticipation that it will be done for us as well. We are given the pattern of Jesus through the Gospels. The only effective instruction we are given is to follow Him in discipleship, essentially to go forth and do likewise. The next post will be some more direct preaching on the idea that the Lord’s grace and mercy doesn’t remove us from all requirements.
(1) Christ-Centered Preaching by Bryan Chapell p268. (2) ibid p278-9. (3) ibid p279. (4) ibid p270. (5) ibid p280-1. (6) ibid p284. (7) ibid p302. (8) ibid p303-304.
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I don’t normally comment too much on politics, but it’s always notable to point out certain things about how Churchians just eat up what they want to hear and accept the things and people before them without thinking about things or protesting and vetting them against the revealed truth. The whole presidency of George W. Bush is a great example of a person just saying the right things and Churchians eating them up. Donald Trump is trying to follow after that example:
Isn’t it interesting in his attempt to pander to the Churchians those who want to “protect Christianity” (who destroyed it themselves) that he couldn’t get a simple book reference right? The crowd definitely knows better, but took it as a joke instead of a hypocritical attempt to make himself seem like “one of us”. Even the leaders don’t know better:
To students who might be concerned that Mr. Trump is not the most religious in the current crop of presidential candidates, Mr. Falwell also had a message from his father.
“Dad explained when he walked into the voting booth, he wasn’t electing a Sunday school teacher or a pastor,” he said, adding, “He was electing the president of the United States.”
When you have a country filled with those proclaiming His name that are straying away from actually honoring His Name by doing what he says, even resisting it, we shouldn’t be surprised to see embracing of leaders just like them.
One of the things you’ll notice (as I have) is that there’s a distinct “Christian culture” that’s cropped up around the churches. If you follow people enough, there’s a contemporary Christian music, Christian movies, and about everything else. There’s one common thread throughout all of it though. As Free Northerner writes:
Everyone, including almost every Christian, knows that Christian cultural productions are not very good. This is especially so in the area of movies and TV. The only truly good Christian movie I can think of was Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, which was created apart from the Christian culture industry. Most of the rest range from crappy to mediocre. As someone in our sphere (I think, I can’t find the piece), wrote on somewhat recently, it takes the whole support system of Hollywood to make a believable movie, and Christians just don’t have that.
I’ll leave any more critiques to Free Northerner’s post. When one thinks about it, there’s really only one reason most of it exists:
Secularists have seen a market and are going after it.
There really is very little that is “Christian” about most of this media if you delve into it. Not to mention it’s of poor quality. A lot of it is about a message, and the “proper message” drives most of it. It is important to remember that a lot of this stems from the unnatural fear driven focus that ties up most of Christianity these days. It’s the idea of fear of the world literally causing parents to isolate the secular from their children rather than teach the children how to deal with it. Much of the media is as much a response to this as courting is.
There’s so much of it out there that people have sensed a market for it and capitalized upon it. It can be absolutely crappy crap crap, but they’ll buy it because it’s “Christian”. The problem is, as FN points out, that there’s really nothing much different between this stuff and the worldly stuff. South Park even references this in one of their episodes, which ultimately references the “Jesus is My Girlfriend” thing with Christian music, as most of the songs follow the Amy Grant Rule (take a “romantic” song and replace “baby” with “Jesus” or some such thing, and you got a CCM song). Personally, I can’t get into the CCM for long both because of the lyrics and the quality. When you have collecting music from some of the best classic rock artists of the last 40 years as a hobby, it’s hard to go away from that for long when you have little good alternative in CCM.
But to ultimately address the question, it’s a matter of the church not offering anything different than what the world does in terms of message. So-called Christian entertainment does not seek for the holy but for the profane. Ironically, the church today does little different than even in Scripture: It turns the holy into the profane (for example Numbers 21:5-8; 1 Kings 18:1-4), and substitutes the profane for the holy. Notably, much of the old culture was steeped in Christian things, to the point that you must understand Christian religion to understand it (coincidentally where most of the manosphere commentators fail with regards to understanding feminism fully), but as of the last 200-300 years, not so much.
A great example of the difference actually is linked on that original post: Johnny Cash. Listen to some of the music artists of that era go “gospel”. So much better than what passes for “Christian” these days it’s unreal. Most of that is that they really believed it and was incredibly referential towards that material and performed it as intended. Or if they had fun, they were still faithful about it.
An example of the former:
An example of the latter:
In a lot of ways, I count myself lucky that I wasn’t indoctrinated into this general fear based culture based on labels, where you can put out whatever you want as long as the right things are said and shown. I’m thankful that I know better. Much of it is indeed though a reflection of general Churchianity and the Personal Jesus, as a lot of it is more feelings-based than anything instructive or example building. The counsel behind elders and looking at their lives (1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9) illustrates that what is produced follows after example. To be judicious about what is said, sung, or shown, for holy qualities is a foreign thing in the church these days, along with looking at the examples.
The vacuous lyrics of modern CCM or lauded movies such as the Kendrick’s trash, along with all the known philandering, homosexuality, etc gets accepted. In the end, it lends a theory to my mind that all the “mainstream” media is secular in the first place. The “Christian” media, the churches, the people that consume it. All of it. The ones without the talent get shifted over to CCM, as a certain “message” gets prized over any degree of talent or witness. “Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t ever work. There is no re-purposing of evil for good. There is nothing Christian in anything that is wicked.
Most of the good Christian culture that was known roughly 50 years ago were made by those steeped in Christ who tried for art, happened to have their lives influence their art. Even a modern comparison of something like Old Fashioned to War Room brings this difference out. Their lives were steeped in Christ, so their art soaked with it. Now, due to the mass fear and hysteria that inhabits the worlds of modern “Christian” parents (namely due to female domination of the family), isolation from the world and not learning to encounter it is the order of the day when it comes to the world. So as happens with mating, artificial constructs are created which are readily accepted by the brain-dead, wherein the most garbage of secular art has the pretense of spirituality defaced onto it via homage to the Personal Jesus. Ultimately, all is defaced as a result.
Let us remember that any of these expressions are a fruit (Matthew 7:15-20; Matthew 15:10-11) of what is inside of these people. Much of this blog has been about analyzing such readily accepted profanity against the Lord. We should never be surprised when the minds and hearts that believe such things produce things reflective of their place before the Lord.
Does baptism save?
As “The Sinner’s Prayer” does not appear in Scripture, I will readily dismiss consideration of it. But as baptism does, the question will be a worthy one to explore. Does baptism save? The answer to that is “No.” The rest of this post aims to explain why and to put baptism in the correct place.
I. Baptism is a work.
The previous post illustrates part of the problem that such an emphasis on evangelism has brought in on an understanding of the requirements of true Christianity. I referenced it there in terms of “fire insurance conferred by The Magic Water and Incantation”. It’s the idea that the act of being baptized is what saves people into Christ.
Traditionally, this started in the idea of turning it into a ritual or “sacrament”, specifically the idea that baptism was something to be earned. Furthermore, other groups started doing it in a perfunctory fashion to infants and children, confusing the matter. Afterwards, the over-emphasis on evangelism brought the idea more into focus as something that simply signifies ringing up the sale of fire insurance.
The “trouble” of getting someone to be immersed (and sometimes multiple ones) has brought further abominations of tradition to light such as “The Sinner’s Prayer”, where all is taught is that it takes saying a certain set of words in prayer in order to be “saved”. Of course, those who have had infant baptism use that as a barrier to entertaining the idea that they may not actually be “saved” and might have to do things more consistently called for in the Scriptures in order to fulfill the Lord’s callings.
Much of the confusion behind baptism is our tendency to grab onto specific Scriptures that befit us without looking at the full counsel of Scripture. Even in the Scriptures we look at, we tend to blow by parts we don’t like to focus on the things we do. With baptism, Acts 2:38 is a common go-to:
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. (Acts 2:38)
Unfortunately, with using this as a go-to, it presents baptism as the way and not a changed life where the costs are counted beforehand.
II. Faith in Christ is the only thing that saves.
Note that the focus is often on the act of baptism and not the word I highlighted. Going to other Scriptures, however, tells us that anything we do does not confer salvation, only acts of faith. In other words, people can say words and get wet and even take classes and works to “prove themselves worthy of baptism”, but have no formative change in them. That our Lord says there will be those that come before Him who claim Him that He will reject (Matthew 7:21-23) should give huge pause. To refer to the other Scriptures (Luke 8:12; Romans 5:1; Titus 3:5):
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. (Acts 16:30-32)
He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. (Mark 16:16)
While Scripture has a specific definition of the word “believe” that is glossed over by the false gospel of the Personal Jesus, the true Gospel demands a changed life, reflective of true grace. If you believe in something, that belief will turn into action.
Note in Mark 16:16, the contrast is placed on belief and not baptism. The confusion we are presented with is that baptism is heavily linked to the idea of belief. Notably, while the repentant rebel on the cross along with Jesus was given salvation (Luke 23:39-43), a true believer not seeking a public baptism would be strange. In fact, baptism gets equated with belief so much that the Scriptures can get confusing on the matter when taken in isolation.
III. Baptism is the true “sinner’s prayer”
The role of baptism is best understood in a similar light to marriage: The idea that it is a physical representation of a spiritual reality. In the true believer, it represents a statement of clear conscience before God in testifying a desire to be part of the resurrection in faith: (Romans 6:3-5; Acts 22:16; 1 Corinthians 10:2; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Colossians 2:11-12).
Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: (1 Peter 3:20-21)
And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. (Acts 8:36-38)
The key word in the first passage (“like figure”) is G499 in Strongs (“antitupon”) or anti-type. It’s a representation or testimony of an actual inward decision or change. A problem comes in delaying or deferring such a testimony, as true conviction would bring upon this desire. This is noted with the story of the eunuch, as well as clearly illustrating the connection of it as a stated testimony of belief given to us as a testimony of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:12-14).
The problem that comes in the teachings on baptism comes when belief is removed as the primary requirement in favor of the act. When the act becomes paramount, who does it, how it’s done, and whether the right words are said becomes more paramount. It is subsumed into tradition, and it loses all meaning. In such a Christianity, it becomes a group of reprobates “saved” by publicly getting wet and other “traditional” requirements the priest lays on them (attendance, tithing, idolatry to the “church”). Or even worse, both belief and baptism are removed in favor of saying certain words.
The decision point becomes not whether the person involved has heeded the call of discipleship in their hearts by faith, but whether or not that they said the right words, the right words were said over them, or whether they got wet or not. In other words, the emphasis on whether “the salvation event” was done right, clearly showing a works-based mentality over it, and destroying its meaning by tradition. Sadly, there are many that have done these works that believe that they are saved, not giving consideration that they might have to actually change their lives. That many (including myself) will relay two “salvation events” in their lives is especially indicative of what actually happens with these things.
May our Lord search our hearts and show us the true extent of our state before Him and convict us where we fall short. May we trust in Him for our salvation and not in the “church”.
One of the consistent preoccupations of not only myself but others is to try to assess the going problems within the churches and propose their solutions. Often, these things are done without the proper full counsel of Scripture, reflecting the preferences of men and tradition. Our Supreme Task as written by Dr. Stephen Kim is a splendid example of such things. While Dr. Kim offers a little bit of truth, he misses the whole problem. As it’s a common issue in churches, stemming from the evangelism crusades of figures such as D.L. Moody and Billy Graham, his post provides a formative opportunity to address the issue.
As Dr. Kim notes correctly, “Christians and churches are presently languishing because of the obfuscation of priorities.” The problem, however, is not the de-emphasis of evangelism.
The problem is that evangelism has been emphasized to the exclusion of all else.
This is what Dr. Kim does in his piece, and what numerous others have done over the last hundred years. While I have no interest in going over Dr. Kim’s post point by point to point out his errors, this post aims to describe the problems with such overemphasis and paint the true Scriptural picture.
I. The So-called Great Commission Isn’t The Great Commission
A traditional artifact present in a lot of churches is the idea of “the Great Commission”, which is a traditional label referring to Matthew 28:18-20. The problem behind it is that it ignores the weight of Scripture that clearly answers the question of what man’s charge or command is before God in favor of other priorities. This is typified in Dr. Kim’s first sentences:
The chief purpose of man is to glorify God. Man’s chief task therefore, is evangelism.
Scripture paints a different story. We are told directly what these things are:
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. (Ecclesiastes 12:13)
If ye love me, keep my commandments. (John 14:15)
And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? [Note: Sounds like the scribe is directly asking what “the Great Commission is”, doesn’t he?]
And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. (Mark 12:28-31)
We’re told very directly that the whole goal is submission to God in love. We are to learn how to do this, and then do it! This is the whole point of true discipleship. This leads into the second point.
II. The Command Is Incomplete
One of the interesting things I note in my church going activities is the repetition where I hear this “Great Commission”, defined as Matthew 28:19 by Dr. Kim and others:.
Our King’s last command (The Great Commission) prior to His ascension into the heavens was that we are to evangelize to every people group on this planet (Mark 16:15, Luke 24:27, Matt 28:19).
Most astoundingly, upon my visit to a seminary, I stopped counting the references at between twelve and twenty in the two hours I was there. But I never hear the whole thing, demonstrating exactly the over-emphasis on evangelism to the exclusion of all else, especially when it should be in the One who bids others to “come follow me”. The whole thing:
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. (Matthew 28:19-20)
The fact that Dr. Kim brings up verse 20 further compounds the astounding view of what tradition does to the word of God (Matthew 15:3-6) in these matters. Given the weight of the Scriptures in Point I, the priorities should be clear in this command. If to be treated as a “Great Commission”, one should never be done without the other. Lack of moderation always produces a problem, and ruins the issue at hand.
III. Evangelistic Emphasis Causes Cancer In The Body
I use the word “cancer” in reference to the body of Christ as it is indeed apt. Cancer is an uncontrolled growth in a body which causes problems. The Body of Christ can be seen in the same way. The malignancy caused by the over-emphasis of evangelism can be well noted. It is well to note that evangelism is only one function given of many within the church (Ephesians 4:11-13; Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12)
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: (Ephesians 4:11-13)
To do one to the exclusion of others inadequately serves the body. All are required. It also causes malignancy in how these functions are seen. In many circles, I have met “Christians” who measure their lives in terms of the number of people that they “brought to Christ” the same as PUAs measure their sexual conquests, while portraying wicked lives. This belittles those that aren’t gifted to plant, but are gifted to water and till the soil. (1 Corinthians 3:7-9)
Paul directly warns of this malignancy in his analogy of the body (1 Corinthians 12):
If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? (1 Corinthians 12:15-19)
Those “brought into the faith” are left with the “What now?” question – in other words, they are inadequately discipled or worse discipled into other things besides Christ. The wisest thing I heard in this regard was an ex-elder speak of a church group who came to the wisdom that the Lord shouldn’t send them any new converts since they don’t adequately take care of the ones they already have within their church. If all the body of Christ were evangelism, then what then? The entire body of Christ cries out for disciples, trying to “make sales” for fire insurance conferred by The Magic Water and Incantation (a side effect of such teachings), turning them into agents as obnoxious and disgusting as feminist SJWs and cause the name of Christ to be reviled and blasphemed.
Yet for those that hear and seek something different, they find nothing worthy or different than the world about them. In fact, they never find anything different. Church leaders notice this and try to keep them from going out the back door or placate them to stay by doing the “good things of the world” (i.e. mercy as Dr Kim talks about). But for those that stay…
IV. Evangelistic Emphasis Darkens the Light and Spoils the Salt
It’s no secret to most who actually pay attention to what Christ supposedly represents that the church represents nothing of the sort. The evangelistic fields are indeed white for the harvest, but where are they? They are the ones who darken church doors and warm seats every Sunday under the deception that they are “saved” by the Personal Jesus. They are the ones who walked in the doors of the churches, saw a situation worse than the world due to the wickedness expounded and decided to rightfully give it a pass.
What Jesus says is indeed correct of the modern church and its leadership, given its malignancy of evangelism:
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves. (Matthew 23:15)
When one is called to follow someone or something, the question of what that someone or something stands for or represents inevitably comes up. No one in the modern church can articulate positive goals behind following the one true Christ but only follow after The Personal Jesus, and no one in the modern church leadership can offer anything better than more of the world. The problem of the churches “languishing” has always had a clear answer, yet as consistent with the ways of men, they always think they have a better way of doing things than God.
“Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8) Indeed.