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If people are coming to know Christ through this program, should we not criticize it?
Axiom: It is OK to criticize people (if you apply the same standard to yourself)
This statement is something which I have heard rather recently, mostly coming from people who are involved in the CGM (church growth movement), which started in the USA. It seems that for people in this moment, increase in numbers of members by an increase in the number of people 'making a decision for Christ' determines whether God is blessing them and of whether the Holy Spirit is working. Therefore, if one questions the program in which they are utilizing for evangelism, then one is questioning the Holy Spirit's work and thus grieving Him.
However, for this accusation to be valid, the following must be true:
I would first discuss the second assumption before the first assumption. The second assumption is something in which modern evangelicalism has held to. In its basic philosophy, it is called decisionism. What this basically means is that when someone says that he/she has decided to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, they are assumed to be saved, in which normally the decision is made by either putting up their hands, walking down the aisle or saying a prayer. So is this biblical? Are people saved by 'making a decision for Christ'?
We would start by asking ourselves how is a person saved in Christ. Scripture consistently tells us that to be saved, we must repent of our sins (Acts 17:30) and believe in Jesus Christ only to be saved. (Acts 4:12). Obviously, this is not the full Gospel message, as we can see from one of the fuller Gospel presentation, for example, in Peter's evangelism message at Cornelius's house in Acts 10:36-43. However, to make my case, this statement alone, although insufficient on its own to present the Gospel message, would suffice. For a more detailed description of how a person is saved, click here.
Using the ultra-simplified Gospel message in this statement, we could see whether people who 'make a decision for Christ' are saved. If they really do what this simple statement says, then they may perhaps be saved. However, if they didn't, then they are definitely not saved.
So do these people say that they believe in Christ? Of course they do, by making a 'decision'.Do those people who 'decide' for Christ, however, repent of their sins? The answer is mostly no. Even without looking at the lives of these so-called converts, the message that was preached to them is that repentance only consists in changing your mind about Christ, which is incomplete and therefore wrong. Repentance involves a complete 180o change from one's old life and turning to Christ and following His ways. (Ez. 14:6, 18:30) In fact, the Bible have a term for the 'repentance = only changing your mind about Christ' mindset. It is called dead faith (Jas. 2:14-26), where the professed faith is not followed up with action which demonstrates it but is only occurring in the mind. This 'faith' that these 'converts' have is the 'faith' of demons, who believe yet shudder as they did not change their ways (Jas. 2:19). This is demonstrated by the lives of these new 'converts' after conversion, which is almost the same as before. Of course, I'm not saying that all people who make a 'decision' for Christ have not repented, just that at least some do not. Therefore, this premise of a person who decided for Christ definitely being saved is falsified.
Regarding the first assumption, we must look at how the Holy Spirit saves people. The Holy Spirit is the person who will convict Man of sin (Jn. 16:8-11) and regenerates people (make them to be born-again) (Jn. 3: 8) so that they will believe in Jesus. Furthermore, when we look at Jn. 3:8, we see that regeneration is unpredictable like the wind in our viewpoint and thus is solely dependent on God. Therefore, we can conclude that God can use anything and everything to bring people to know Him IF He so pleases to. In Rom. 8:28, God is saying that He will work out all things, good or bad, for the good of His people, which could include their salvation. A famous case is played out in the life of Joseph, who was betrayed by his brothers (a bad deed) (Gen. 37:12-36) yet God works it out such that the Israelites would be saved in the family of Jacob (a good thing) (Gen. 45: 4-28) In fact, Joseph, after all that he had gone through, proclaim this:
You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish
what is now being done, the saving of many lives. (Gen. 50:20 — NIV)
In all this, we see that the Holy Spirit can save people anyhow, anywhere and under any circumstances IF He wants to do so. Therefore, this falsifies the first assumption already as the salvation of souls is already independent of human evangelistic programs.
Despite this , one may object that the presence of many people coming to know Christ must surely be a blessing, as it surely does not happen all the time. To this, I would concur. However, I will surely question whether this is so. Scripture commands us to test everything (1 Thess. 5:21) and even to test the spirits behind anything to see whether they are from God (1 Jn. 4:1). This is especially true of the modern CGM, as the number of decisions are normally used to measure the success of evangelism and the number of people saved. It is highly unlikely that the Gospel is preached fully as there are large numbers of people who 'decided for Christ' yet very few people stay on in the church. Also, by virtue of the fact that success in evangelism is measured by the number of decisions in each rally, ministers would tend to water down the Gospel so as to cause less offense to the non believers by the Cross of Christ. All of this would create lots of false converts who are not Christians except by name only, as can be seen in the state of Christianity in the USA where this movement started 1.
To add to this, Scripture does specifically tells us the method in which God has chosen primarily to act to evangelize. That method is found in Rom. 10:14-15, in which preaching the Word of God is designated by God to be the means by which He would call His sheep to Him. Although God definitely can and sometimes may use other methods, He is clear from His Word that preaching the Word is the means in which He had ordained for this purpose and thus we have to obey Him. Thus, the Holy Spirit will not approve of any other evangelistic program in which preaching of the Word is absent or is placed secondary to other methods. Therefore, the first assumption is demolished.
In conclusion, we have seen from the Bible that God's approval of a particular evangelistic program is independent of whether He saves people; that many decisions for Christ is not necessarily translated to many converts, especially when a false Gospel is preached; and that although God can use any means and methods to bring His lost sheep back, He has ordained preaching as the method and thus any other method is not pleasing to Him. Therefore, it is legitimate to question and criticize evangelistic programs even though many people seems to be saved through it, as long as one does it through the view of Scripture.