This is part of a series of posts on the sin of Assimilation. Click here to see the entire series.
Acts 2 records the first sermon of Peter. Peter preaches this sermon in order to explain why some believers were speaking in tongues. He refers to an Old Testament verse to prove that the behavior of speaking in tongues was a literal fulfillment of a prophecy by Joel. This prophecy was to be fulfilled at the time of the coming of the Messiah of Israel. That Messiah, according to Peter, had come, and His name was Jesus. Peter then makes an amazingly harsh and intolerant statement (by modern standards) when he says (vs 23), “this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” In that short sentence Peter affirms the truth of the hated doctrine of predestination and holds the Jews responsible for the murder of Jesus. Under normal circumstances that should have been enough to enrage the crowd and have him executed. Certainly, if that message were preached in most evangelical churches in this country on a Sunday morning, there would be great indignation and outrage against the preacher. How did the people respond?
They were not outraged. Rather, they were “pierced to the heart” and asked, “What shall we do?”. This soft hearted response to the doctrines of predestination, sin, and moral culpability for the murder of Jesus is rarely seen today. Quite the contrary, those who dare to preach the doctrine of predestination are called any number of bad names and banned from the churches of decent, civilized, enlightened believers. What was the result of the soft heartedness of the people? They were saved.
About three thousand people responded to the sermon of Peter. He didn’t tell any gripping stories designed to elicit an emotional response on the part of the listeners that would cause them to walk down the aisle and pray the prayer. He didn’t promise them that if they came forward to be baptized then God would make them healthy and wealthy. No, Peter told them they needed to repent and be saved from that perverse generation. I wonder how that call would be received in an evangelical mega-church in this country?
In a Church under the blessing of God we will find that the Gospel is preached clearly, fully, and persuasively. The result of that preaching of the Gospel, in a time of blessing, is that people will repent and be converted. Both elements must be present in a time of blessing. The Gospel that is being preached must be fully biblical and people must be cut to the heart and come to the church in repentance and faith in response to that preaching. Merely having a bunch of people walking the aisle and praying the prayer is no evidence of genuine conversion.
In Matthew 19: 16-22 Jesus does something that every seminary in the country would strongly suggest no minister ever do. He makes it hard for a person to join the church. This is the story of the rich young ruler. This man was a perfect candidate for church membership. He was powerful and influential in the community. He was a man of great reputation and outstanding moral character. He took the initiative to come to Jesus and expressed a clear desire to become a part of His church. For any church in this country this would be a no-brainer. He would immediately be received and would probably be elected to the office of elder before a year had passed. His high profile presence in the church would be considered a great way to bring more of his type into the fold. What did Jesus do?
Jesus did the highly offensive and harsh thing of making it almost impossible for the man to join Him. Jesus, knowing that this man was a materialist, ordered him to sell all that he had and give it to the poor before he could join the church. You can just see all the church growth specialists cringing when Jesus did this. Didn’t Jesus have enough sense to realize that it was more important to get the man into the church before they started working on his weaknesses? Apparently not. The net result was that the rich young ruler went away grieved, because he was one who owned much property.
It would have been easy to pad the conversion statistics by receiving this man into the church. It is easy to pad the conversion statistics by being in a church that is located in a growing demographic. I have known of dozens of churches who claimed amazing new membership rates simply because they were located in an area where people were moving. Other churches that claim the blessing of growth have done so because they managed to land a superlative preacher who had the charisma to steal the sheep from other churches with lesser quality pastors. These games go on all the time in evangelicalism.
II Timothy 4: 3-4 talks about churches that are experiencing dramatic growth. Paul writes Timothy to say, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths.” For the most part, churches that are experiencing dramatic growth in this country are doing so because of ear-tickling teachers who are feeding the members a steady diet of what they want to hear. Week after week they hear “messages” about how much God loves them, just the way they are. They are bombarded with the idea that God exists to meet their needs, of spirit and flesh. They are convinced that God is supposed to give them health and wealth. If He does not, they get angry with Him. Throw in some alleged miracles for the charismatics in the group and you have a prescription for rapid church growth.
Meanwhile, the sound doctrines of the church have been replaced with the modern heresies of Arminianism, Dispensationalism, Marcionism, and the charismatic movement. (See my essay on Evangelical Heresies for more information) So, are we seeing high numbers of dramatic conversions in response to the faithful preaching of the entire Word of God? I think not. Most churches are seeing little or no growth. Those mega-churches that are experiencing great growth have done so at the expense of doctrinal orthodoxy. With respect to genuine conversions it is a sound conclusion that the Church in the United States is under the curse of God.