Fumbling the Gospel

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I would prefer not to start the week with a rant, but this one has been stewing in me for some time, and unless I get it out, it will only nag at me further.

Please read this post today, even if you’re not up for an in-your-face message. And while much of this is aimed at charismatics, it applies to everyone. Because it’s not just charismatics who are missing the point.

I write this today because my heart is just sick with the way we are presenting the Gospel to the lost. I’m writing because our teens are not getting the proper indoctrination into the Faith. I’m writing because I am tired of fellow charismatics who treat the Holy Spirit like a cudgel. I’m writing because a lot of people who “asked Jesus into their heart” are going to hell.

The pastor of my former church linked from Facebook to the following video:

This video, as labeled, purports to show healing revival going on at Disneyland. A group of Christians wanted to pray for strangers at the park. My response: Great! Go for it!

But then the uh-ohs start. You can find one between 40-50 seconds in. Another comes at 4:07-4:20.

There’s a move in some charismatic churches into what has been deemed “power evangelism.” For those not familiar with the term, it involves using the charismata to evangelize people. This includes healing encounters and speaking words of knowledge and prophecy to the lost.

I want to state upfront that I believe power evangelism can be a remarkable tool to lead people to Christ.

But there’s a big “IF” attached to that statement. And part of that if shows at the 4:07 mark.

Power evangelism works if power encounters with the Holy Spirit are immediately followed with the truth of God’s word, the presentation of the Gospel, repentance, and a completely changed life. In that way, people who have genuine power encounters with the Holy Spirit are not just affected by the power encounter, but by the reality of who Jesus is as presented in the Gospel.

When I hear people claiming to be born again because they asked Jesus into their heart, it riles me. Not because Jesus doesn’t dwell in the believer, but because the whole idea of asking Jesus into one’s heart has no biblical basis for salvation.

Paul Washer provides an eloquent counter to this unbiblical concept. I encourage you heartily to watch the whole video. It’s worth it:

Entire churches are dedicated to equipping their youth for power evangelism (such as this well-known example). And while on the surface that sounds awesome, I have enormous reservations.

My key reservation is the same concern shared by Paul Washer: We evangelicals and charismatics no longer understand what the Gospel is. And we don’t understand it because the people who are supposed to be transmitting the truth of the eternal Gospel of Jesus Christ have fallen down on the job, distracted by prosperity teachings, comfort, the American Dream, fun, entertainment, self-help, and even, sad to say, power encounters with the Holy Spirit (the why of which I’ll explain later on).

I think it would be safe to say that the average teen in a charismatic church who may be receiving encouragement to do power evangelism can’t articulate what the real Gospel is. In fact, knowing what I know of youth ministry today, I doubt that most teens in evangelical or charismatic churches could lay out a basic plan of salvation with a half dozen Bible verses in support.

And that’s a crime.

Say a youth group decides to go out and do prophetic prayer ministry at a mall filled with lost people. A few scenarios exist:

1. Teen prays a prophetic word over someone. Person blows them off and walks away. Result: That person may stay lost because they have not heard the Gospel.

2. Teen prays a prophetic word over someone. Person listens, is touched by the prayer, but walks away. Result: That person may stay lost because they have not heard the Gospel.

3. Teen prays a prophetic word over someone. Person listens, is touched, and asks what next to do. Person is told to ask Jesus into his/her heart. Result: That person may stay lost because they have not heard the Gospel.

4. Teen prays a prophetic word over someone. Person listens, is touched, and asks what next to do. Person is told to ask Jesus into his/her heart. That person manages to retain enough interest in the experience to look into it further and, hopefully, stumbles across someone someday who actually explains the real Gospel to them. Result: That person may truly get saved and develop a love relationship with Jesus.

Numbers 1 through 3 are a complete loss, in my opinion, while 4 is the equivalent of fumbling the football and hoping your side recovers the loose pigskin—except in this gridiron classic, there’s not just one team playing against you, but hundreds, if not thousands.

Chances are, these mallwalkers who do bite may taste the fruits of heaven, end up calling themselves Christians, and fall into that netherworld of religiosity dominated by what I call “antiwitnesses.”

Too cynical? Well, I’m not done yet…

If the teens on this prophetic outreach can’t articulate the Gospel, can we be sure they even know what it is? And if they don’t know what it is, then are they truly saved themselves? And if all this is in question, what spirit is driving their power evangelism? Yikes!

(If you think I’m just charismatic bashing, then you’ll have to argue with well-known charismatics Andrew Strom and Derek Prince on these same issues. And for evangelicals, see “10 Reasons to Not Ask Jesus into Your Heart.”)

Youth ministry in this country is in a full-on freefall if we look at its ultimate results. Surveys by many of the most respected Christian pollsters and organizations repeatedly show that the majority of our supposedly born-again young people go into college as Christians and come out as unbelievers. George Barna paints an even bleaker picture, wherein only 0.5% of those ages 18-23 hold what is considered to be a traditional Christian worldview. No matter how you may want to slice and dice Barna’s figure, it’s a tragedy.

Those heartwrenching numbers exist solely because we in the Church today are not instructing our young people in the faith. They don’t know the Gospel. If they did, they wouldn’t be falling away in droves.

Instead, we teach kids who may not know the Gospel how to do power evangelism. Then they go around trumpeting how they’re going to “whack people up with the Holy Spirit.”

Frankly, I’d like to “whack up” whatever heretical “teacher” ever taught someone to talk about the blessed Holy Spirit in such a crass, demeaning way. Godless people speak that way about the members of the Trinity, not those who are indwelt by the genuine Holy Spirit. And for another thing, the Holy Spirit exists to relentlessly point to Jesus, not to Himself. Again, if we don’t know that, we don’t know the Gospel.

Are you mad yet at the foolishness that passes for discipleship and ministry today?

You don’t give a howitzer to a baby, no matter how much they may scream for it. The early Church did not let people go off spiritually half-cocked like we do today. Maturity was lauded and immaturity criticized.

We MUST instruct the immature in the basics of the faith. Any 13-year-old kid who was raised in a church MUST be able to espouse basic doctrine, including the core of the Gospel,  in a coherent way. When I was that age, I had to study my Lutheran catechism for hours, do personal Bible study on basic doctrine, and sit through a one-hour, two-on-one  grilling on tough issues of the faith by the pastor and youth worker before I was considered an adult member of the church.

We have GOT to get back to that kind of intensive discipleship or this will be the terminal generation of the Church. God will not forever excuse the kind of educational folly we’re practicing in all too many churches before He takes decisive action.

In a bit of sychronicity, I happened to stumble across a likeminded post over at iMonk’s blog, “Higher Things: A New Model of Youth Ministry.” It reads like a breath of fresh air, even if it’s again the Lutherans doing it right. I’m just glad SOMEONE takes ministry to the next generation seriously. Much more power to ’em.

But as for the rest of us, we’re atrocious at turning our young people into mature Christians. Atrocious. Too many distractions knock us off the core, foundational doctrines.

Power evangelism is incredible when it’s in the hands of people who know the Gospel, can articulate it, and know how to discern good from evil. But that simply is not our young people today.

If we want to undermine the Church in America even more, let’s keep being stupid about discipleship. But God help us then on Judgment Day.

33 thoughts on “Fumbling the Gospel

  1. Ronni

    THANK YOU! I’ve been saying this for so long! I lived that live of “the golden ticket” syndrome and it’s satans number one lie to keep people from truly worshiping God… because HE IS GOD.

    The “ask Jesus into your heart” thing just angers me on so many levels… I’ve seen it used with kids and it scared them… they didn’t understand where He was and if He could breathe… and well the normal kids questions… they were scared into saying a prayer instead of truly understanding HIS HOLINESS… and our need for redemption…

    It took me 36 years to figure out what the truth was… and it’s changed my life… THAT is salvation…

    … the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:7-9

    THE END OF YOUR FAITH… which means we must live it to the end! Why would we be admonished over and over to stand strong, fight the good fight, be holy… be righteous… if all we needed was our hand stamped and we got in the gate?

    May the Lamb who was Slain receive the reward of His suffering!

    OUR LIVES!!!

  2. I, too, have to yes and amen this. I’m almost left speechless after listening to Paul Washer.

    My first “conversion” at age 18 was at the hands of similar sensational types in the Word of Faith movement. I lived a lot of immoral and debauched years still thinking I was a Christian because of that original experience. Thank God for His mercy, that He did not leave me like that – that He saved me five years ago at age 40! Now I cannot get enough of the Gospel. I want to hear it every day, and every day repent and keep on being saved until the day I meet Him face to face.

    Thank you for sharing this.

  3. Sulan

    I thank God I was raised in the stablenesss of a Baptist Church, so as they came at me with all this off the wall hullabaloo, I knew God and His Word, and therefore was able to stand and avoid any of their traps.

    Yes, even in church I was rejected, because I didn’t want to follow the crowd. I always seemed to be swimming upstream, while they were going downstream.

    Thank you, Bob, for addressing this, as not too many people in places of authority are willing to do so.

    To me it can be related to watching someone you know about to drink a glass of arsenic, would you try to stop them, and show them something better to drink?

    i think we have a responsibility to expose the false, and do it loudly!

  4. Matthew

    Dan, heavy topic, but so very necessary. I couldn’t even begin to lay out my own struggle with this. This is so needed…so essential to the church NOW. Thank you for sharing this.

    • Matthew,

      I saw your trackback and read your post at your blog. Did you see my post from a couple weeks ago on “< href="http://ceruleansanctum.com/2009/07/how-to-become-a-christian.html">How to Become a Christian”?

      • Matthew

        Dan,
        I did see your post on how to become a Christian, which was a wonderful explanation of the Gospel. In fact, that may have been the impetus for getting my mind on the whole subject of repentance!

        I want to say that as someone who grew up in a charismatic denomination, I saw many abuses of the gifts of the Spirit. Even as a kid, I remember wondering about the authenticity of what I saw on Sunday (night especially) and what went on in those same live the rest of the week. My wife and I now attend a church that doesn’t doubt the gifts, but yet doesn’t emphasize them either. However, I’ve found that this position tends to downplay the gifts entirely. I love reading your blog, for you seem to have the balance correct.

  5. Lone

    both very good posts, this one and the ‘antiwitness ‘

    maybe the only thing that is left, indeed, is the kind of Spiritfilled people like during Wales, or in China, or the great awakening…Merely ‘gifts from the Spirit ‘ are not enough, no more: the counterfeit ‘spirits’ have become too numerous and too brutal
    ( yes, even under ‘jesus name ‘ ! ( no joke ! )
    – so I m not sure about the first video, either

    in Wales were those people, who , when they opened their mouth, people were instantly convicted of SIN, first –
    not the other way around

    yes I believe, that óne more time, this will happen again, soon, before the end.

    bless You Dan

    • Lone,

      If we don’t preach the cross, our results will look exactly like the results we see today.

      When the Holy Spirit comes, the VERY FIRST THING HE DOES is convict people of sin. Because He Himself is holy. And sinful men cannot abide the presence of genuine holiness without the conviction of sin.

      If power evangelism does not produce repentance, then it isn’t the HOLY Spirit doing the powerful work but some other spirit.

  6. Jeff Brown

    Dan, I do agree with your assessment of, and also share your concern for the job many church’s are doing preparing our youth to be effective ambassadors for Christ. I also see a tremendous need for mentoring people of all ages that’s going unmet. However,I’m not convinced that offering or mandating any type of intense study that resembles what you described as being necessary in assisting a teenager to convey the simple truth of the Gospel to another teen. What I see working not only with teens but with anyone is helping people to make a tangible connection between their problems in life (sin) and the answers that the love of Christ (salvation) has for them. That’s the good news that people not only need to hear, but that they want to hear as well,that they’ll listen to, and yes, even open their hearts to…that changes lives!

    • Jeff,

      Before people can comprehend the good news, they have to understand the bad news. In ages past, people understood the bad news implicitly. People today don’t seem to grasp it. People have to know about sin and its enormous stain. They have to hear about repentance. But neither is being preached well.

      People who don’t understand this, who never get repentance presented to them, may live their whole lives in some kind of shallow concept of Christianity, but they never get to the finish line. They wind up being half-baked disciples who only comprehend that God exists to give them stuff and help them have a happy life. That’s not the whole Gospel. That has no cross in it. It never addresses Jesus’ statement that “unless you repent, you will likewise perish.”

      We have a forged a Gospel in our times that has no repentance. Yet the prophet who announced the coming of Christ, the one whom Jesus Himself said was the greatest, preached a message of absolute repentance. How can we do otherwise?

      I have seen too much crossless Christianity in recent years. But that is not Christianity at all. All that “thing” does is leave people with warm fuzzies. It never produces a dead person that God can raise up and accomplish supernatural works through. The total lack of power in today’s American Church is because we have too many people who have not died to self and therefore cannot be used in Holy Spirit power to accomplish any good for the Kingdom. Anything they do is by the flesh, and none of that will stand. It will all burn. And too darned much of what the Church does in this country anymore is burning up, even before Judgment Day.

  7. David

    If the teens on this prophetic outreach can’t articulate the Gospel, can we be sure they even know what it is? And if they don’t know what it is, then are they truly saved themselves? And if all this is in question, what spirit is driving their power evangelism? Yikes!

    “Not everyone who says to me, †˜Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, †˜Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, †˜I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

    It seems to be contradictory that someone could drive out demons, heal, and prophesy in the name of Christ and not be saved, and yet there it is in Matthew 7. If we do not properly disciple, rather than taking short cuts, we doom people to an eternity away from their Savior.

  8. Dan,
    I do believe there is a revival of the true Gospel. I am a charismatic-reformed and have been a christian for many years but over the past several years have had a focus on the Gospel and more sound scriptural and doctrinal beliefs which I left many years ago for “words of the Lord” and “getting a witness to that” but I’m not so sure I would want to emphasize the more legalistic signs of conversion to prove that someone is truly saved which was a nightmare for me. realizing the true nature of the Gospel set me free from legalism and in the proccess from many sins that had dogged me for years.
    Mike

    • Mike,

      We created the nightmare, not God. When charismatics toss out doctrinally-based discernment they are just as wrong as those who throw out the charismata. The real walk of faith is not hard when we stop imposing our own limits on what God can and cannot do. He Himself has imposed certain limits, and those limits are pure and holy. But yes, our tendency is to add to what He limits or to limit what He has not, and that is wrong and only leads people to confusion.

      The Bible is clear. If we would just listen to it, so much of our walk with Christ would be easier!

    • That said, Francisco, Jesus did not discount the miracles completely. Their point was to point to him, because the intent of the charismata is always to point to Jesus because the Holy Spirit always points to Jesus. Too many people, especially charismatics, forget this.

  9. Jeff Brown

    “Before people can comprehend the good news, they have to understand the bad news”.

    A lot of the people I talk to are already in a very dark place.I’ve never felt led by the Holy Spirit to remind anyone with whom I’m sharing the love of Christ with that in addition to their present troubles,without His atoning blood they’re headed straight for hell. . It was the compassion of Christ that reached me,and so how can I do otherwise? I managed to ignore all of the sermons I ever heard about fire and brimstone and I don’t think it was because they weren’t preached well. As I see it, we as the church are doing a poor job of meeting people where they are, we somehow expect people to be able to trust in the Lord enough to give their lives to Him without first coming to know who He is through the expression of His love by the church. I believe that all of the things you mentioned are true…

    The total lack of power in today’s American Church is because we have too many people who have not died to self and therefore cannot be used in Holy Spirit power to accomplish any good for the Kingdom.

    They wind up being half-baked disciples who only comprehend that God exists to give them stuff and help them have a happy life. That’s not the whole Gospel.

    But I don’t believe that things are this way because nobody preached repentance effectively to them, rather, I believe that it’s the wonder of Christs love for us that draws men to repentance. No man will lay down his flesh or die to himself until he understands that our Lord came from the glory of His heavenly kingdom and gave His life for us on a cross while we were yet sinners!

    Dan, I think that you and I are on the same team and that we’re both doing what we feel is the fulfillment of Gods commission. I watched the video of the kids at Disneyland and I didn’t see a thing wrong with it. Maybe that’s because I’m just glad to see teens filled (even “jacked up) with the spirit!

    “The real walk of faith is not hard when we stop imposing our own limits on what God can and cannot do. He Himself has imposed certain limits, and those limits are pure and holy.”

    Your words here rang true to me, and they made me think about those kids, and about what Jesus said were the two most important commandments.

  10. Cary

    Dan,

    I have a positive comment following your latest post, but I did want to bring up one concern that I have here. I wasn’t able to find time to watch the videos until last night. I am on board with all that you write, but I find the Washer video a little troubling. To use Lutheran terminology, it seemed to be all Law without Gospel to me. It was late, so maybe I need to listen again, but I don’t recall any mention of grace. It sounded like religion to me, where all the emphasis is on working hard at living a holy life. Now I agree that we often aren’t presenting the Law to people, i.e. giving the Spirit opportunity to convict them of sin and guilt. And I do think that we aren’t seeing true repentance because of this, since I don’t think that we can truly grasp grace until we understand our own sin. Being more Wesleyan than reformed, I do think that we need increased emphasis on holy living, but the motivation for such living needs to come from love and gratitude in response to the love and grace that was given to us through Christ and the cross. If we work at being holy from a motivation of sin and guilt, then I think the danger is becoming legalistic. I don’t think that you are promoting this, but that is how I heard the Washer clip.

    Oh and I really enjoyed the Derek Prince piece you linked. He had a couple of ways of succinctly summarizing things that were really helpful.

    Thanks for your writing. I always find it challenging and thoughtful.

    • Cary,

      I didn’t see the Washer vid that way. If we’re not presenting the Gospel right, then we need correction. Call that Law or call it a prophetic word, it doesn’t change our need for reproof.

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  12. Matthew

    woo agree with that! good post. I’m very for power-evangelism but also feel sometimes some charismatics can be a bit airy-fairy with the gospel, which is the reason we were doing the power evangelism in the first place!

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