Whole Counsel Theology

Friday, June 16, 2006

The Idol of Evangelism

Yes, that's right; evangelism has become an idol. I truly believe this to be one of, if not the greatest problem in the Southern Baptist Convention today. We have idolized the practice of evangelism, and focus on it rather than the God who commanded that it be done.

I want it to be clear that I am not opposed to evangelism. That should be very obvious from other posts in my blog. If you are going to insist that I am anti-evangelism based on this post in opposition to my clear statement here and in other posts (not the least of which is my Gospel Tract), then I cannot stop you. However, if you do choose to take that stand, may God rebuke you and correct you. Instead, I am opposed to making it an idol over God Himself, and opposed to many of the methods that pass for it nowadays.

The recent Southern Baptist Convention brought this issue to the forefront in many ways. If you listen to a lot of the messages from the pastor's conference, aside from the common misrepresentations of "Calvinism" and the lack of expository preaching, you'll note a very strong emphasis on evangelism. This in and of itself isn't bad, but what were the reasons given to DO it? What were the supposed benefits of sharing Jesus?

Later, during a brief delay in the business section of the Convention, Dr. Bobby Welch spoke from a passage in Matthew 13 (though I forget which part) and made a couple of comments which highlight the problems with how the SBC views evangelism:
There isn't a problem in your church that soul-winning can't solve.

Really? No problem at all? That's a bold claim, and one I'd have to disagree with. If a church doesn't know what the Bible teaches and is a bit lost doctrinally, just because people are won to Christ (a very good thing), the climate won't be helped in the church too much. Sure, there will be rejoicing over people saved, but now there will be fresh new believers in need of discipleship in a church that doesn't know its Bible. That part of the problem will likely worsen.

Dr. Tom Ascol submitted a resolution about integrity in reporting church membership. The committee decided not to bring it forward, and that in and of itself was disappointing. However, since the resolution was submitted properly, he was able to bring it up during a business time. When he did, it was soundly defeated. A member of the committee, Dr. French, when Tom read the resolution from the floor, responded (with emphasis mine):
Brother Tom, we understand and we are concerned about these things. However, we are also concerned about the accuracy of the claims because what we receive through the statistics are just those things that are reported by the local churches. And so we would have to challenge what they send us.

And we certainly do not want to throw away from our membership rolls the names of the non-attenders because we would be throwing away a very valuable prospect list for reclamation in evangelism. Now in Sunday School we don’t cull the rolls as long as those people live in our area so that we can continue to pray for them and visit them and secure them in Bible study.

I do not question Dr. French's motives, but this statement is reprehensible in more than one way. Comparing church membership to Sunday School membership is comparing apples to oranges, a God-instituted body versus a man-instituted organization. Churches can do what they want with their Sunday School rolls, but the composition of the church is much more important.

As Southern Baptists, we believe in a regenerate church membership; that is, that believers are to be the only members of churches, and this is appropriate because the only members of Christ are those He has saved. Furthermore, in Southern Baptist churches, we require people to have been baptized as believers before they get added to our membership rolls. The Baptist Faith and Message speaks to this very thing under Article VI, The Church (my emphasis):
A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ, governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth.

So then, our church membership rolls, per the BFM (not to mention the Bible), CANNOT be a source of evangelism prospects! If people are not saved, then they should not be on any church roll in the Southern Baptist Convention[1], and I would argue, shouldn't be on any church roll anywhere. Remove such people from church membership by appropriate discipline as defined in Matthew 18[2], and take the Gospel to them!

Perhaps Dr. French misspoke, and in the heat of the moment said something he didn't mean, or didn't elaborate. However, if that is the case, I do indeed hope he would say so sometime in the near future.

Regardless, what he said indicates a serious problem. It is opposed to the BFM for sure, and sounds very much like compromise on a biblical tenant for the sake of a hope that more "might" be reached. The problem is, we cannot, CANNOT do that!

These kind of statements have led to many of the practices of evangelism that we have in the SBC today. Progressively, we have been moving down the road of an "anything goes" mentality to do what it takes to get someone into the baptistry and/or to pray a prayer. When they do that, we add them to the church roll, often with very little discernment in the whole process as to whether or not God has really changed them. The focus becomes more on man and his feelings than on God and His glory. Dr. Roy Hargrave, pastor of Riverbend Church in Florida preached an excellent message addressing this very issue. I find myself in near complete agreement with him, especially this statement from that message:
"If therefore the desire to evangelize is the priority of the church over God and His glory, then it becomes in and of itself, an idol."

I couldn't agree more. How often do we hear the Great Commission declared from our pulpits, but have a critical implication from it missed?
Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (19) Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (20) teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

Often we are told, "Jesus has all authority, and He is commanding us, so we should go! his authority is greater than anyone else's who might try to dissuade us." This is a true and trustworthy implication, and we should take it seriously, applying it to our practice! However, is this the ONLY implication we should be getting from this text, and the ONLY application? I say a resounding NO!

Jesus has all authority over heaven and earth. Not only do we go because He's told us to, but everyone, everywhere owes Jesus allegiance! Jesus has all authority -- the whole world, every tribe, tongue, people, and nation owes Him worship and reverence -- and people don't give it to Him! Our God is dishonored and blasphemed, and people do not worship Him! My brothers and sisters, this is HORRIBLE and ought not be!

Therefore, because Jesus has all authority and deserves the worship of all, we go to the ends of the earth with His Gospel and proclaim it to them that they might be saved and therefore begin to give God the glory that He deserves! THAT ought to be our primary motivation for sharing the Gospel of our God. Jesus deserves worship; we DO NOT deserve salvation. Jesus died on the cross to purchase a people for Himself. We deserve wrath; He deserves His reward, and the means He has ordained for that end is the preaching of the Gospel. We must then GO, because Jesus deserves the honor and glory! Evangelism therefore is not an end within itself; its end (and fuel) is the worship of the Almighty, Most Holy, Merciful, Gracious, Wrathful ONE TRUE GOD.

Furthermore, evangelism is not the only item commanded in the Great Commission. If we are not discipling new believers and teaching them everything Jesus commanded, then we are in disobedience to the very thing we trumpet most often from our pulpits.

Lord Jesus, bring repentance to the Southern Baptist Convention and our churches. Please cause us once again to focus on YOU and YOUR glory and be God-centered in our evangelism once again.

For the Glory of Jesus,
David B. Hewitt

1. This is of course, not to say, that such people shouldn't be on any roll at all. In many SBC churches, the Sunday School rolls double as prospect lists; I have no problem with that, or placing such people on a different prospect list all together. However, the membership list of a church ought not be such a list.

2. People that claim to be members but do not take part in a local church, in most cases (overseas deployments and crippling sicknesses excepted), are lying about their membership and are rebelling against Scriptural mandates, such as the one in Hebrews 10:24-25. Therefore, such people are candidates for discipline under the guidelines of Matthew 18 that I cited. This process of discipline needs to be re-instated in our churches, and I believe the current unbiblical attitudes about evangelism we have right now have contributed greatly to the demise of this biblical practice among us.


  • David, I think this post is right on! When Brother French mis-spoke I wasn't surprised at all. I am sure you know as well as I that this is the very attitude that drives people like Tom Ascol to make his resolution in the first place. Every time, as an associate pastor, that I raised the question of integrity on our membership rolls I heard the very same, exactly the same, argument.
    You are correct when you describe this as an Idol! How can we crush it up and make our convention drink it?
    In Christ, my Rock?

    By Blogger Stephen A Morse, at Friday, June 16, 2006 3:17:00 PM  

  • 1) Bowing down before the statue of Billy Graham and suggesting that pastors should ask, "What would Billy do?" is a clear second commandment violation.

    2) Evagelism is now the Law that the SBC is slave to, for all the talk of Gospel.

    3) Evangelism has been divorced from all other aspects of a healthy church, notably discipleship. Where is the desire to see the sheep grow and mature?

    It's the numbers that justify such a perverted view of evangelism; but the same numbers are artificial.

    More than just soul-winning, and an impersonal statistic, we should be interested in the people themselves, interested in their continued spiritual well-being, keeping them in the flock, and training them. Which would result in ... more workers. Increased church attendance. A broader outreach.

    The entire great commission should be applied. May we repent in dust and ashes of our idolatry of evangelism. And then let us preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth, for the sake of God's elect and God's glory, and teach them ALL that Christ has commanded.

    By Blogger brigand, at Friday, June 16, 2006 3:23:00 PM  

  • Thanks, guys.

    I also wanted to make it clear that my intention in this was not to demonize anyone or anything. Please do not confuse the passion with which I wrote to be arrogance, and please forgive me if it came across in that latter way.


    By Blogger David B. Hewitt, at Friday, June 16, 2006 4:19:00 PM  

  • i'm tired of drawing fire.

    By Anonymous Patrick, at Saturday, June 17, 2006 11:55:00 AM  

  • If we stand up and declare the whole counsel of God, submit to it, and choose to serve God rather than men, we'll always draw fire, brother Patrick.

    I'm sure you don't need me to tell you that either.


    By Blogger David B. Hewitt, at Saturday, June 17, 2006 2:30:00 PM  

  • Correction!

    Not Baptists but only SOME Baptists profess to believe in a regenerate church membership.

    MOST have placed NUMBERS above the
    mysterious, miraculous work of our eternal, sovereign God in the transformation of sinners into saints.

    By Blogger scripturesearcher, at Sunday, June 18, 2006 11:27:00 AM  

  • Brother Scripture Searcher:

    It would appear that you are right. Indeed, we say we do, but when it comes down to reality, we often do not in practice. What we do often does indicate more about what we believe than what we say.

    Thank you sir for the comment, and may God grant us all repentance and forgiveness in this matter.

    David Hewitt

    By Blogger David B. Hewitt, at Sunday, June 18, 2006 2:23:00 PM  

  • HI Dave, In addition to the great works by Piper I'm also reading Justo Gonzalez's The Story Of Christianity. Algo.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Monday, June 19, 2006 9:22:00 AM  

  • Dave: Long time no talk!

    I appreciate what you said here. Though not at one now, I had a couple of years at an SBC church, and your statement, along with Tom Ascol's & Sojourner's really resonated with me.

    In addition to making numbers an idol, it seems like part of the problem is that many churches have moved away from an emphasis on equipping in favor of (corporate) evangelism. Churches have pushed individuals out of evangelism, while at the same time neglecting discipleship.

    To be fair, this isn't only happening in SBC churches. But, as you rightly point out from the BFM, Baptists ought to know better--church membership is for believers.

    By Blogger Gummby, at Monday, June 19, 2006 1:50:00 PM  

  • Algo -- I've read through those as well. Good works to be sure (two volumes in that one).

    Gummby -- yes, long time indeed! Some churchces have re-emphasized personal evangelism; I believe this to be the case with the FAITH evangelism strategy that has come out of Lifeway recently and that former SBC president Bobby Welch uses a good deal in his church in Florida.

    However, with that said, I still think that our focus is terribly wrong; we emphasize the practice of evangelism or the numbers issue, and we FAIL to emphasize God in it, and that His glory and worship is the goal of soul-winning! That is truly tragic; evangelism, the means by which God uses to bring His elect to Himself so that they worship Him is being emphasized, quite often, to the neglect of the focus and goal for which it exists!

    When we fail to emphasize evangelism's purpose (the glory and worship of GOD in CHRIST) then we have corrupted and abused it. God help and forgive us!

    In hope of Reformation and Repentance,
    David B. Hewitt

    By Blogger David B. Hewitt, at Monday, June 19, 2006 2:53:00 PM  

  • RE: "There isn't a problem in your church that soul-winning can't solve."

    I have personally known of several cases of people who were active "soul-winners" and were at the same time living in blatant sexual immorality.

    By Blogger David Rogers, at Sunday, July 02, 2006 6:21:00 PM  

  • Brother Rogers:

    Many thanks for your input and for dropping by. Clearly you've provided a counter-example, and a sad one at that.

    I stopped to pray for those examples you just mentioned; perhaps God will restore them to repentance; may God bring it about!

    David B. Hewitt

    By Blogger David B. Hewitt, at Sunday, July 02, 2006 10:05:00 PM  

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