There’s a story that’s been in the news about a Christian missionary named John Allen Chau who was killed by an indigenous tribe while attempting to evangelize them into Christianity. Apparently the tribe who live on the North Sentinel Island only number between 50 – 150 people and have refused contact with the outside world. Because they’ve had virtually no contact with the outside world, the Sentinelese people also haven’t been exposed to most contagious diseases. Their immune systems aren’t strong enough to handle even the common cold. Therefore it’s actually illegal to make contact with them – partly for their protection. Despite of this, John Allen Chau – an Oral Roberts University graduate – took it upon himself to go and tell them about Jesus. Apparently he had been there before, shouting “My name is John, and I love you and Jesus loves you” to the bow and arrow wielding tribesmen at which point they started shooting at him. One of their arrows even pieced his Bible, but that didn’t stop him. He went back a second time and this time he didn’t make it out alive.
My first thought is, why? Why would you do that? Why risk your life to go and tell a hostile tribe about Jesus when they clearly don’t want to hear about Jesus? The answer, of course, is arrogance. Here you have a tribe that does their own thing and doesn’t bother anybody and they just want to be left alone. They’re a small community of people; they probably eat healthy as they don’t have access to the processed stuff that we eat. Apparently, they don’t even understand what money is or how to use it. So, they don’t have all the stress that we have that goes along with having money. Maybe they’re backwards, maybe they’re savages and they shoot people with arrows, but are we really so certain that our way of life is better than theirs? Are we so certain that they are lost and in need of saving? And that’s the Christian arrogance that I’m talking about. Because then you have a guy who grew up in a Christian culture, went to a Christian university where he was given a particular worldview and he just assumes that this worldview is the correct one.
My second thought involves the sheer preposterousness (is that a word?) of it. Apparently God created this tribe of people, but then he decided that they must go to hell. But at the same time, he loves them, so he’s kind of in two minds about it. He comes up with a solution – he butchers Jesus on a cross, which is supposed to solve the problem, except it doesn’t. Unless someone goes to this island and tells them that God butchered his son on a cross and they believe it, they’re still going to hell. Perhaps the reason why the Sentinelese refused contact with the outside world is because they didn’t want to be corrupted by crazy ideas such as this.
What really got to me is that – when I read some of the comments on the articles covering this story – a lot of people said things like, “This guy is a hero… he has earned a great reward”, “He fulfilled his mandate” and “What a mighty welcome home he received from our Savior Christ the King”. And the Sentinelese people are the backwards ones? Do we still believe in a God who will reward us with stuff if we get ourselves killed against our better judgement? Christians are making out like he died for a worthy cause when the only reason he went there was so that he could feel better about himself and his own relationship with God. That probably sounds very judgmental of me, but I know this because admittedly I did similar things when I still called myself a Christian. I used to do talks at rehabs and my talks involved Bible verses. I don’t think my intention was to convert anyone to Christianity, but a part of me did do it for my own ego.
In the previous posts in this series, I have talked a lot about the doctrines of grace, also known as the five points of Calvinism. Today, I want to talk about the sovereignty of God — the singular, overarching belief that binds Calvinistic theology together. What do Calvinists mean when they speak of the sovereignty of God? If there’s one book that every newly minted Calvinist has likely read — no, it’s not the Bible — it would be A.W. Pink’s classic, The Sovereignty of God. Since this book is widely accepted as the definitive Calvinistic statement on the sovereignty of God, I thought I would let Pink define the doctrine:
The Sovereignty of God. What do we mean by this expression? We mean the supremacy of God, the kingship of God, the godhood of God. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that God is God. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the Most High, doing according to His will in the army of Heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, so that none can stay His hand or say unto Him what doest Thou? (Dan. 4:35). To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the Almighty, the Possessor of all power in Heaven and earth, so that none can defeat His counsels, thwart His purpose, or resist His will (Psa. 115:3). To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is “The Governor among the nations” (Psa. 22:28), setting up kingdoms, overthrowing empires, and determining the course of dynasties as pleaseth Him best. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the “Only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15). Such is the God of the Bible.
The Sovereignty of the God of Scripture is absolute, irresistible, infinite. When we say that God is Sovereign we affirm His right to govern the universe which He has made for His own glory, just as He pleases. We affirm that His right is the right of the Potter over the clay, i. e., that He may mold that clay into whatsoever form He chooses, fashioning out of the same lump one vessel unto honor and another unto dishonor. We affirm that He is under no rule or law outside of His own will and nature, that God is a law unto Himself, and that He is under no obligation to give an account of His matters to any.
Sovereignty characterizes the whole Being of God. He is Sovereign in all His attributes. He is Sovereign in the exercise of His power. His power is exercised as He wills, when He wills, where He wills. This fact is evidenced on every page of Scripture.
Simply put, saying God is sovereign means that He alone is responsible for and controls EVERYTHING! Of course, such a statement quickly leads to the critics of Calvinism saying, so God is culpable for sin? Calvinists have all sorts of arguments they use to get around this logical conclusion, including answering in the affirmative — Yes, God is responsible for sin. If God is sovereign and he decrees all that happens without exception, then the only conclusion one can come to is that God is responsible for sin. So what? some Calvinists say. God is God and he can do whatever he wants to do. Whatever God does is right because it is God who is doing it. When objections are raised, Calvinists reply, God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and his ways are not our ways. In other words, he is God, the creator and we are the created. He is the potter, as the book of Romans says, and we are the clay. God can and does do whatever he wants, and as the Apostle Paul says in Romans 9, those who object to God’s sovereignty need to shut the hell up (okay, he didn’t say it like that word for word, but you get my point). As finite beings, mankind has no right to criticize or condemn God’s works.
When I first came to know and understand the sovereignty of God, I was relieved. For the longest time, I carried the burden of building a church congregation on my shoulders. While God was certainly there right along beside me, I knew it was up to me to get things done. As a Calvinist, I no longer felt pressured to get this or that done; that if God wanted me to do something he would bring it to pass; that if God didn’t want something done there was absolutely nothing I could do. Now, in retrospect, I know that only way anything gets done is if I do it. I suspect that’s how it works for you in your life too. And Calvinism aside, a case can be made for taking this approach to life; that praying and “waiting” on God often become camouflage for laziness and indifference.
As the sovereignty of God permeated every aspect of my ministerial and personal life, how I approached things began to change. The first thing I did away with was giving altar calls — a manipulative tool popularized by nineteenth century evangelist Charles Finney. The second thing I did was turn my attention away from aggressive evangelistic efforts. Instead, I focused more of my time on my studies; on preparing my sermons; on preparing lessons for Sunday school and, later, an elders’ class. As I mentioned in a previous post, I set my sights on un-saving congregants who had been saved during my Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) days. I believed that I had been preaching a truncated, bastardized version of the Christians gospel, so it was my solemn duty to preach the Calvinistic gospel. I learned, after six years of such efforts at one church, that it is much harder to get people un-saved than it is to get them saved. The third thing I did was breathe. God is in control, I told myself. No need to stress out over winning the lost. If God wanted them saved, well he would save them. My job was to preach the gospel.
During my early years as a Calvinist, I read John MacArthur’s book, The Gospel According to Jesus. In this book, MacArthur demolished my IFB soteriology. MacArthur believed: “The gospel call to faith presupposes that sinners must repent of their sin and yield to Christ’s authority.” IFB pastors generally believed that a person could be saved, yet not make Jesus Lord of their lives. The crux of the argument was whether sinners had to repent of their sins to be saved. Many IFB preachers believed in what Calvinists called decisional regeneration; the belief that by praying a simple prayer a sinner was saved. Requiring sinners to repent of their sins was, in the eyes of many IFB preachers, works salvation. MacArthur would not have any of that, saying that the lordship of Christ was not optional; that if a person was not willing to forsake his sin and totally follow Jesus there would be no salvation for him. (See One, Two, Three, Repeat After me; Salvation, Bob Gray Style.)
One story that stands out from this time is a written interaction I had with Curtis Hutson, editor of the Sword of the Lord — an IFB newspaper. Previous to Hutson, John R. Rice was the editor of the Sword. Rice had written in a tract titled What Must I Do to Be Saved? that sinners had to repent of their sins to be saved. No repentance, no salvation. Hutson, after taking over the Sword, decided to rewrite the part in the tract that talked about repentance. Hutson, like many of the big name IFB preachers of the day, believed that repentance was a mere change of mind: I was against Jesus and now I am for him; I was headed east and now I am headed west; I was a sinner and now I believe in Jesus. Men such as Jack Hyles and Bob Gray, Sr. turned this intellectual assent into an art form. Thousands and thousands and thousands of people prayed the sinner’s prayer, believing that by doing so they became Christians. No mention of repenting of sin was mentioned. To do so was to preach works salvation. And that’s exactly what Curtis Hutson told me when I wrote him. I called him out on his secretive change of Rice’s tract. I told Hutson that he materially changed what Rice believed; that Rice’s gospel and his gospel were not the same. Hutson responded by telling me that I was preaching works salvation, a gospel that did not save.
Rice was no Calvinist, but he did believe that repentance was essential to salvation. If a person was not willing to forsake his sin and follow after Jesus, there would be no salvation for him. Back in my college days, I went door to door attempting to evangelize sinners. My goal was to share with them the simple plan of salvation (The Roman’s Road) and ask them if they wanted to be saved. If so, I asked them to pray the sinner’s prayer. (See The Top Five Reasons People Say the Sinner’s Prayer.) Once they prayed the prayer, I declared them to be a newly-minted Christian. One day, I happened upon a woman I thought might need saving. As I started to go into my spiel, she — realizing I was one of those terrorist preacher boys from Midwestern Baptist College — stopped me and said, there’s no need for you to continue. I already did that. I asked her where she went to church and she replied, nowhere. I am saved now. Why do I need to go to church? Men such as Hyles, Gray, Sr, Dennis Corle, Hutson, Steven Anderson, and countless other IFB preachers believe that this woman, if she “sincerely” prayed the sinner’s prayer, was saved, a new-born child of God. Rice, MacArthur, and the now Calvinistic Bruce Gerencser believed the woman was still dead in trespasses and sins, and headed for hell unless she repented of her sins and followed after the Shepherd, Jesus Christ.
As a Calvinist, I believed that sinners were spiritually dead, unable to believe without God giving them the ability to do so. Man was bound by sin, and unable to do anything about it unless God intervened. This intervention was called regeneration; the giving of life to dead sinners. For most (not all) Calvinists, regeneration preceded faith. Since unregenerate humans had no free will and were spiritually dead, it was impossible for them to believe on their own. As an IFB preacher, I believed faith preceded regeneration; that spiritual life came when a sinner, by faith, asked Jesus to save them. As a Calvinist, my response to this notion was this: how can a dead man do anything?
My goal, then, as a Calvinistic preacher, was to preach the gospel in the hope that what I preached would find fertile ground in the hearts given life by the Holy Spirit. As an IFB preacher, so much of how people were saved depended on me: the right sermon, the right illustrations, the right delivery, the right invitation song. As a Calvinist, my objective was to simply preach the gospel; to declare the whole counsel of God. If sinners were going to be saved it was up to God, not me.
Numerically speaking, hundreds and hundreds of people were saved through my ministry and preaching as an IFB preacher. As a Calvinist, I saw a few people saved. As an IFB preacher, I expected people to be saved weekly. As a Calvinist, I found that months and months could pass without anyone saying that God had saved them. This, by the way, is typical. IFB churches tend to rack up large numbers of converts, whereas in Calvinistic churches conversions are few. IFB churches tend to focus on quantity, and Calvinistic churches on quality. Which is better? It all depends on what matters to a preacher. Does he want big attendance numbers, or does he value the intellectual growth of congregants?
Let me illustrate this difference with what is commonly called The Great Commission:
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)
IFB churches tend to focus on verse 19: Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. The goal is to preach the gospel to the whole world. Calvinistic churches, on the other hand, tend to focus on verse 20: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. The goal is to teach followers of Christ his commandments. Rare is the church that fulfills both parts of the Great Commission.
As I survey my years in the ministry, I have to say that my Calvinistic years were far more rewarding personally and intellectually. I enjoyed the hard work required for crafting good sermons. I enjoyed spending hours upon hours reading books and studying the Bible. As an IFB preacher, my life was consumed with the ministry, with winning souls, with building a growing church. As a Calvinist, I was content to be the resident intellectual; a man paid to study the Bible and read awesome books. I still cared about the souls of attendees and church members, but I no longer felt pressed to perform. Above all, as a Calvinist, I found that I had more time to spend with my wife and children.
In Part Six, I plan to write about how Calvinism affected my marriage and my relationship with my children. In particular, I plan to talk about birth control and family size. There’s a reason Polly and I have six children and why there’s six years between child number three and child number four and why we stopped having children after our youngest son was born. Stay tuned.
For you who are interested in the difference between Rice’s version of the tract What Must I Do to Be Saved? and Curtis Hutson’s:
Does not the Bible say that we must repent? Yes, the Bible plainly says that “God … commandeth all men every where to repent” (Acts 17:30), and again, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3,5).
This was the preaching of John the Baptist, of Jesus, of Peter and of Paul, that men should repent. And certainly repentance is in God’s plan of salvation. The trouble here, however, is that men misunderstand what repentance means, and there has grown up an idea that repentance means a period of weeping and mourning over sin, or sorrow for sins. This idea comes from the Douay Version of the Bible which instead of “repent” says “do penance.”
So the place of inquiry, where people should be taught the plan of salvation from the Bible, in revival meetings, became “the mourner’s bench” and thousands of people have been taught that God would not hear their prayer nor forgive their sins until they went through a process of sorrow and mourning over their sins!
Do not misunderstand me. God is anxious for you to have a penitent, broken heart over your sins. You have gone away from God. You have trampled under foot the blood of Jesus Christ, wasted years of your life which you can never live over again. You have served your father, the Devil.
There is plenty for you to weep over, and I am not surprised if you feel deep shame and sorrow in your heart that you have so mistreated the God who made you and the Saviour who died for you. I am not surprised if you cannot keep back the tears! But what I want you to know is that tears or no tears, however much sorrow you may have in your heart, or not have, those things do not save you.
You ought to be sorry for your sins and ashamed of them. “Godly sorrow worketh repentance” (II Cor. 7:10)—the right kind of sorrow leads to immediate repentance, but mourning is not itself repentance.
“Could my tears forever flow, Could my zeal no respite know, These for sin could not atone; Thou must save, and Thou alone.”
To repent literally means to have a change of mind or spirit toward God and toward sin. It means to turn from your sins, earnestly, with all your heart, and trust in Jesus Christ to save you. You can see, then, how the man who believes in Christ repents and the man who repents believes in Christ. The jailer repented when he turned from sin to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Does not the Bible say that we must repent? Yes, the Bible plainly says that “God … commandeth all men every where to repent” (Acts 17:30), and again, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3, 5). This was the preaching of John the Baptist, of Jesus, of Peter and of Paul, that men should repent. And certainly repentance is God’s plan of salvation. The trouble here, however, is that men misunderstand what repentance means, and there has grown up an idea that repentance means a period of weeping and mourning over sin, or sorrow for sins. This idea comes from the Douay Version of the Bible which instead of “repent” says “do penance.” So the place of inquiry, where people should be taught the plan of salvation from the Bible, in revival meetings, became “the mourner’s bench” and thousands of people have been taught that God would not hear their prayer nor forgive their sins until they went through a process of sorrow and mourning over their sins! The right kind of sorrow leads to immediate repentance, but mourning is not itself repentance.
Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
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Many Evangelicals believe that Jesus will not return to earth until the gospel is taken to the ends of the earth. This belief is based on several Bible verses, particularly what is commonly called Jesus’ Olivet discourse:
And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world? And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come. (Matthew 24:3-14)
In Matthew 28:19, 20, Jesus tells his disciples — the eleven:
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.
As Jesus was getting ready to depart this earthly realm and return to Heaven, he gave his disciples one final command. His disciples asked him, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? Jesus replied, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. And then he said:
But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
These verses, as with all Bible verses, can be interpreted many different ways. Some Christian sects believe that these prophetic verses were fulfilled during the lifetime of the apostles. According to their peculiar interpretation, these verses have nothing to do with today. It sure would be nice if Christians treated the entire Bible this way; that it has nothing to do with today. Unfortunately, millions of Evangelicals believe these verses have EVERYTHING to do with today.
Most Evangelicals believe that Jesus will one day return to earth’s atmosphere and rapture every Christian. This catching-up of believers is said to be imminent; meaning that there is nothing prophetically preventing Jesus from returning this very moment. The date and time of Christ’s return is written in God’s Google Calendar, but no one else knows when that will be. God is the best surprise party planner ever; keeping the rapture’s date and time secret until the moment when Gabriel licks his lips, blows his trumpet, and God #1 says to God #2, go on to earth, boy, and get your children. And then, faster than a speeding bullet, the one and only King of Kings and Lord of Lords will, as 1 Thessalonians 4:16 says: descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God. At that moment:
The dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (I Thessalonians 4:16,17)
Other Evangelicals believe that two things keep Jesus from returning to earth.
First, the Antichrist must be revealed, and second, the gospel must be preached to the ends of the earth. I want to focus the remainder of this post on the necessity of the gospel being preached to everyone before Jesus can return to earth.
I came of age in an era when the fervor of Evangelicals was heightened by the belief that Jesus would return in their lifetime. I heard countless sermons about the rapture, the great tribulation, the second coming of Christ, the millennial reign of Christ on earth, and the great white throne judgment. Preachers would speak of ‘Jesus tarrying’ so more souls could be saved. Such sermons were meant to stir the passion of listeners for lost souls.
Much has happened over the past forty or fifty years. Jesus, of course, did not return to earth as predicted by men such as Jack Van Impe and Hal Lindsey, and Evangelicals, thanks to Jerry Falwell, discovered and fell in love with political power. Today, instead of winning souls and ushering in the return of Jesus, Evangelicals busy themselves with winning elections, passing right-wing Republican legislation, and doing their part to usher in, not the return of Jesus, but the reign of the antichrist, Donald J. Trump.
One Evangelical collective, however, believes God wants them to win two billion souls before Jesus comes again. Birthed in 2002, the Billion Soul movement is nearing the one billion hamburgers served, uh, I mean souls saved mark — 855,552,199, to be exact. The goal is to see two billion people converted to Christianity. And make no mistake about it, the Billion Soul movement is a mass conversion movement; the conversion of Muslims, Hindus, Catholics, and other non-Evangelicals to Evangelical Christianity.
The man behind the Billion Soul movement is James O. Davis, the founder of Cutting Edge International and the co-founder of the Global Church Network. In 2010, Davis was named in “Top Ten Christian Influencers In The World.” So, Davis must be a somebody, but I have never heard of him. For readers who are as clueless as I am about Davis, here’s his brag stats:
His [James O.Davis] leadership includes:
A biannual Synergize! Pastors Conference, regional Synergize! Leadership Summits, plus the deployment of the Global Church Leadership
Summits in all major world regions. During international summits in 2007-2011, leaders committed to plant more than 5.5 million new churches.
An annual North American Conference On Biblical Preaching.
More than 50,000 pastors have attended these conferences and summits.
Before launching the Global Church Network, Dr. Davis served twelve years as the National Evangelists Representative for the National Assemblies of God world headquarters where he provided leadership for some 1,500 evangelists and equipped thousands of students for full-time evangelism.
Ministering more than 45 weeks per year to an average yearly audience of more than 125,000 people. In the last nearly 30 years, Dr. Davis has ministered face-to-face to more than 7,000,000 people in more than 121 nations.
Annual travel exceeding 250,000 miles with a combined total of nearly 8,000,000 miles.
The engine that drives the Billion Soul movement is the 500,000 churches that have said YES to being a Billion Soul church. What exactly is a Billion Soul church, you ask? The movement’s website says a Billion Soul church:
Is a Synergizing Church that networks and partners with others to complete the Great Commission.
Is a Soul-Saving Church with a focus of doubling in size within ten to fifteen years.
Is a Seeking Church that prays for the Great Commission to be fulfilled.
Is a Sending Church that trains ministers to send into the harvest field and plants churches.
Is a Sowing Church that invests resources and finances in the Billion Soul Movement.
Of course, most of this soul-saving is going on outside of the United States, Europe, and Australia. Western countries have been thoroughly picked over by evangelizing vultures, so it is on Africa and Asia to find new suckers to fleece and “save.” And therein lies one the biggest problems I have with Evangelicalism — the pathological need to evangelize non-Evangelical cultures. Non-Christian countries are considered inferior. Their cultures and religions are worthless when compared to Christianity. Instead of respecting the beliefs and practices of other cultures, evangelizing Evangelicals hope to replace these beliefs and practices with Western Christianity. Evangelicals see non-Christian cultures as blind and deaf to truth; the truth being that the only road to Heaven is paved with the blood of Jesus, and the only way to escape hellfire and damnation is to disavow false gods and, by faith, accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Imagine, for a moment, Hindu missionaries fanning out across the United States intent on delivering Christians from their ignorant ways. Imagine these zealots trashing your culture, beliefs, and practices, saying that the way to life, peace, and eternal rewards is the Indian way. Would American Christians be offended? How dare these people look down on us and denigrate the Red, White, and Blue, millions of Billy Bobs and Suzie Jeans would say. Leave us alone! We have a right to worship our God in peace, without being bothered and harassed by Hindu missionaries. Exactly. Why, then, do Evangelicals believe they are exempt from such common courtesies?
Evangelicals, of course, believe God has commissioned them (see aforementioned verses) to bug, harass, irritate, annoy, agitate, and torment non-believers. Invited or not, zealous Evangelicals shove Salvation Shit Sandwiches® in our faces, thinking that they are doing us a favor by “sharing” with us the “truth.” We should be very glad that most Evangelicals aren’t zealots. Most of them, in fact, are passive church attendees who are content to let the world go to hell. Now, take away their padded seats, air conditioning, and soft toilet paper in church bathrooms, then you’ll see people on fire for Jesus. Let their “felt” needs go unmet, and they will be lining up a voting block to oust the pastor. I live within thirty minutes of more than one hundred churches, yet in the eleven years I have lived in Ney, Ohio, not one Christian has ever knocked on my door and attempted to evangelize me or invite me to church. The Jehovah’s Witnesses stop every year or two, but no one else. If winning souls for Jesus is what it is all about, why do most Evangelicals NEVER, EVER share their faith? If this life is really all about preparation for the life to come, why does it seem that most Christians are in no hurry to leave planet earth? For all their talk of about salvation, death, and the life to come, Evangelicals seem to be quite content with the here and now. They speak of being ready to go; they just don’t want to be on the next train. If life after death is all that Evangelicals say it is, why do they do all they can to keep from dying. If heaven is “a wonderful place, filled with glory and grace,” why not let cancer have its way and give up on life? From my seat in the atheist pew, all I see are Christians who are very much in love with life and who are in no hurry to become worm food.
The next time you stumble into an Evangelical church for anything other than a funeral or wedding, pay attention to what everyone is talking about before and after the service. I guarantee you will hear very little chatter about winning a billion souls to Christ. Instead, those who worship the name above every name, Jesus, will be happily talking about family, grandchildren, sports, their latest vacation, and what they plan to eat for lunch. In other words, life. And that’s a good thing. As long as Evangelicals are busy talking about Ohio State, deer season, high school football, crocheting, cat videos, and the Blizzard of ’78, they are not focused on attempting to make you and me numbers 855,552,200 and 855,552,201 on the saved list. THAT, is good news, indeed.
Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.
Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.
The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise. Proverbs 11:30
Soulwinning — the art, the endeavor of sharing the gospel with sinners and leading them to put their faith in Jesus Christ. A metaphor for evangelism or witnessing. (It is not a word found in the English dictionary.)
Soulwinner — a person whose purpose, desire, and motivation is to share the gospel with sinners and lead them to put their faith in Jesus Christ. (It is not a word found in the English dictionary.)
The Bible makes it clear that every church should be a soulwinning church and every Christian should be a soulwinner.
And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. Mark 16:15
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
Matthew 28:19,20 is commonly called the Great Commission. While some may argue that the Great Commission was given ONLY to the eleven disciples, most sects and pastors think the Great Commission is a command given by Christ to every Christian.
Why is it then that most Christians never verbally share the gospel with another person? I am not talking about inviting them to church so the head soulwinner, the pastor, can preach the gospel to them. I am not talking about nonverbal, just let your light shine or any of the other excuses Christians give for not verbalizing the gospel to those who do not know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Why is it that most Christians never, one time, in a clear, concise way, share the good news of the gospel with a lost, hell bound sinner? Isn’t not doing so a direct repudiation of the Great Commission, a direct command given by Jesus to his followers?
The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement has turned soulwinning into a fine art. Churches hold soulwinning conferences and clinics. These special events are used to light a fire under church members who are not soulwinners. They are also used to train members in the best soulwinning techniques. Technique matters. Dennis Corle bragged to me that he could win a soul in five minutes. According to him, all a soulwinner had to do is follow the script. Follow the script, use proper technique and you too can be a great soulwinner like Dennis Corle.
No one was a bigger promoter of soulwinning than Jack Hyles, the former pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana. Hyles was famous for telling stories like this:
A few years ago I was in a Bible Conference in Houston, Texas. After a morning service, I returned to my room at one of the large motels on the north side of Houston. To my surprise, the door to my room was open and I heard singing coming from the bathroom. After checking the room number with my key, I realized I was in the right room. Perhaps someone else was in the wrong room.
I hollered through the door, inquiring who was there, only to find it was the Negro maid cleaning out the bathtub. She was actually down in the tub cleaning out the ring.
I asked her if she were a Christian. She said, “Mercy, no! I am as mean as the devil.” I got my Testament out and showed her the plan of salvation. All the time she was in the bathtub. After I showed her how to be saved, she knelt in the tub and received the Saviour.
I have laughed many times about this and have jokingly said, “I guess I am the only preacher in the world who ever won a lady in a bathtub!” This is just another of the many unusual experiences that God gives to soul winners. We should be on the lookout constantly for people who need the Saviour
I have won people to Christ in train stations, in bus depots, on airplanes, in grocery stores, in barber shops, in shine parlors, in service stations, in garages, in school buildings, on ball diamonds, and in many other places. There are many hungry hearts waiting for someone to tell them the story.
For decades, Hyles and First Baptist Church conducted what they called Pastor’s School — a week-long event used to motivate pastors and church leaders to win more souls. Under the leadership of John R. Rice and Curtis Hutson, the Sword of the Lordheld Soulwinning Conferences all over the country. These conferences were used to encourage and motivate pastors and churches that had forgotten Jesus’s command to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.
From the 1960’s-1980’s, countless IFB churches experienced explosive growth as they went into the highway and hedges and compelled (without vampire powers) sinners to put their faith in Jesus. In the 1970’s, most of the 100 largest churches in America were IFB churches.
Today? First Baptist Church in Hammond, once the largest church in the world, no longer conducts the Pastor’s School, The Sword of the Lord no longer holds soulwinning conferences all over the country. Based on the 2013 Outreach 100 Largest Churches List, there is not one IFB church on the list. (Many large IFB churches refuse to publish their actual attendance numbers.) Most of the IFB churches that made the Top 100 list in the 1960s-1980s are shells of what they once were. Some have even closed their doors. What happened?
In 1976, I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern, a small IFB college, was known for producing preachers who were great soulwinners. Tom Malone, the founder and chancellor of Midwestern, was also the pastor of nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church. Every student was required to attend Emmanuel.
For many years, thanks to its bus ministry, Emmanuel experienced explosive attendance growth and was listed as a Top 100 church. Emmanuel saw high attendance days of over 5,000. Soulwinning was the lifeblood of the college and church. Students were required to go out soulwinning at least once a week, and each week were required to account for their soulwinning activities.
Midwestern held a soulwinning contest while I was studied there. Students competed with each other to see who could win the most souls. The winner of the contest usually won a hundred or more souls. Every student was required to participate in the soulwinning contest. One year, the college put up a big banner and chart that was used to track who was winning the most souls. In the mind of Tom Malone, soulwinning was all that mattered.
For Sale Sign in Front of Midwestern Baptist College
Today? Midwestern has its campus up for sale, having moved its small student body to Shalom Baptist Church in Orion Michigan. Emmanuel, a church that once bragged about being a Top 100 church is no more. As with the college, its facilities are up for sale.
For Sale Sign in Main Entrance Door, Emmanuel Baptist Church, Pontiac, Michigan
What happened? Why is Emmanuel closed, Midwestern a shell of what it once was, and the IFB church movement facing steep attendance declines?
If you ask IFB pastors this question, he will likely tell you that the WORLD is the cause for the attendance decline. People love their sin more than they love Jesus. They might even point the finger at Evangelical mega churches and their slick marketing, worship bands, and relational sermons. Where they will never point the finger is at themselves. In their minds, they are the true church, preaching the true gospel. They seem unable to see that it is their theology and methods that have led to their decline.
Instead of preaching a transformative, holistic gospel, they preached decisional regeneration, also known as easy-believism. Salvation became a simple transaction between a sinner and God. Sinners were told to pray a prayer:
Dear Lord Jesus, Thank you for dying on the cross for my sins. Come into my heart and save me from my sins. Thank you for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. I am trusting you to take me to heaven when I die. Amen.
If people prayed that prayer, they were considered born-again Christians. Millions of Americans have prayed a prayer such as this. From Billy Graham crusades and Campus Crusade outreaches to Southern Baptist churches and IFB churches, the sinner’s prayer contained the magic words that made one a child of God. This bastardized version of the gospel filled churches with people who had no idea about what it meant to a Christian or a member of a Christian church.
The Romans Road to salvation is a way of explaining the good news of salvation using verses from the Book of Romans. It is a simple yet powerful method of explaining why we need salvation, how God provided salvation, how we can receive salvation, and what are the results of salvation.
The first verse on the Romans Road to salvation is Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” We have all sinned. We have all done things that are displeasing to God. There is no one who is innocent. Romans 3:10-18 gives a detailed picture of what sin looks like in our lives.
The second Scripture on the Romans Road to salvation, Romans 6:23, teaches us about the consequences of sin – “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” The punishment that we have earned for our sins is death. Not just physical death, but eternal death!
The third verse on the Romans Road to salvation picks up where Romans 6:23 left off, “but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 5:8 declares, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus Christ died for us! Jesus’ death paid for the price of our sins. Jesus’ resurrection proves that God accepted Jesus’ death as the payment for our sins.
The fourth stop on the Romans Road to salvation is Romans 10:9, “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Because of Jesus’ death on our behalf, all we have to do is believe in Him, trusting His death as the payment for our sins – and we will be saved! Romans 10:13 says it again, “for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins and rescue us from eternal death. Salvation, the forgiveness of sins, is available to anyone who will trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
The final aspect of the Romans Road to salvation is the results of salvation. Romans 5:1 has this wonderful message, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Through Jesus Christ we can have a relationship of peace with God. Romans 8:1 teaches us, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Because of Jesus’ death on our behalf, we will never be condemned for our sins. Finally, we have this precious promise of God from Romans 8:38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Would you like to follow the Romans Road to salvation? If so, here is a simple prayer you can pray to God. Saying this prayer is a way to declare to God that you are relying on Jesus Christ for your salvation. The words themselves will not save you. Only faith in Jesus Christ can provide salvation! “God, I know that I have sinned against you and am deserving of punishment. But Jesus Christ took the punishment that I deserve so that through faith in Him I could be forgiven. With your help, I place my trust in You for salvation. Thank You for Your wonderful grace and forgiveness – the gift of eternal life! Amen!”
Have you made a decision for Christ because of what you have learned through the Romans Road to salvation? If so, please click on the “I have accepted Christ today” button below.
The soulwinners were told to stay on point, reiterating the points in the soulwinning plan. If the sinner asked questions not related to salvation, the questions were to be ignored and the sinner steered back to the soulwinning plan. They were to give the sinner just enough information to get saved. Questions would be answered later after they were baptized and became a part of the church.
Think for a moment about what I have written here. Doesn’t all of this sound similar to a sales program used by Amway or some other direct marketer? Work the plan! Stay on point! Press the prospect to make a decision! Close the sale!
When I was in college, I sold Kirby vacuüm cleaners. My Dad sold them for many years and I thought, like father, like son. Every Saturday, the local Kirby office would hold mandatory sales meetings for their salesmen. These meetings were pep rallies meant to motivate salesmen to sell more vacuüm cleaners. They even sang songs with lyrics like There’s power, power wonder working power in a Kirby, sung to the tune of the There’s Power in the Blood.
The Kirby pep rallies were quite similar to that which took place at Hyles’ Pastor’s School and Sword of the Lord Soulwinning Conferences. The goal was the same: motivate salesmen to hit the street and sell merchandise. In the case of the IFB church, the merchandise was Jesus, salvation, and fire insurance.
Were you a member of an IFB church? Were you a soulwinner? Was your church an aggressive soulwinning church? Please share your experiences in the comment section.