What Are We Seeking ?…. Decisions or Disciples ?

15 January, 2006   comments: (1) Today’s Synergism  
  This is a 2006 post from the  ” Old Truth ” website and Jim Bublitz. The issues are still the same and , unfortunately not a lot has changed.

Trophies for “decisions” are imaginative to say the least, but they would be iconic of the popular mindset in evangelism. Churches and ministries today are doing outreach differently than in the past, and they are looking for validation of their new techniques. Decision-counts have become the standard unit of measure for quantifying God’s blessing on: evangelism techniques, leadership methods, and sermon content. In this posting, we’ll explore the claims, concept, and counting of “decisions for Christ“.

Within a few days of the annual Christmas musicals this last year, church-blogs everywhere began to light-up with claims of success. So often however, I noticed that “success” was being defined mathematically; here’s an example of one church who reported 72 decisions for Christ that night. But it’s not just a Christmas phenomenon; these conversion-reports are wide-spread in evangelicalism today. Here are some more examples:

  • A pastor of one seeker sensitive church claimed 1,879 decisions
    in a single year. Being enamored with these ‘results’, he declared: “There have not been in all of church history that many churches
    that have touched as many lives
    “, unquote.
  • Another pastor preached a sermon on “Your Best Life Now
    (apparently based on Joel Osteen’s book), and said afterwards –
    this produced many decisions for Christ.

One pragmatic pastor who offers input on my blog occasionally, insists that all of this represents a great modern revival. Here are some more examples:

The most dramatic example I’ve seen, is the account of one man,
who was said to have influenced over one million decisions for Christ
in his lifetime. That’s Bill Bright. And we are told that a movie that he
created lead to more than 200 million decisions.

Let’s bring an historical element into this discussion. I’m amazed at how long some of history’s greatest missionaries waited before seeing their very first convert. Why didn’t they quit in discouragement, and how many of today’s pragmatic pastors would have been willing to wait this long?:

  • William Carey was in India for seven years
    before he baptized his first convert.
  • David Livingstone served eight years in Africa
    before seeing anyone converted.
  • Adoniram Judson in Burma, six years.
  • Hudson Taylor in China, waited ten years!

Now with that bit of information from church history in mind,
consider some of these claims:

  • A group of students on one recent missionary excursion
    in Buenos Aires claimed 1,477 decisions in a single day.
  • Another missionary trip saw thousands of decisions for Christ
    in a single week.

How can we explain the fact that a group of students ended up being radically more effective in initial outreach than the most well-known missionaries in church history? Were the missionaries of the past simply not smart enough to come up with innovative and culturally relevant outreach techniques? Could it be that there is really some massive revival going on today, that wasn’t going on during the greatest century of missions? The more likely explanation is that Christian ministers of past centuries looked at lasting conversions, where as today – the short-sighted focus is on counting immediate “decisions”.

Going back in church history, we see a more discerning attitude, that resisted making immediate conversion claims. George Whitefield, who was a leader in the 18th century Great Awakening, made it a practice to delay judgment until months or years down the road. Whitefield’s reasoning for this was, you simply can’t know right away. He said:

There are so many stony ground hearers, who receive the Word with joy, that I have determined to suspend my judgment till I know the tree by its fruits. I cannot believe they are converts till I see fruit brought back; it will never do a sincere soul any harm“.

A century later, Charles Spurgeon was also very outspoken against potentially boastful and self-validating conversion claims, saying:

Do not, therefore, consider that soul-winning is or can be secured by the multiplication of baptisms, and the swelling of the size of your church. What mean these dispatches from the battle-field? “Last night, 14 souls were under conviction, 15 were justified, and 8 received full sanctification”. I am weary of this public bragging, this counting of unhatched chickens, this exhibition of doubtful spoils. Lay aside such numberings of the people, such idle pretence of certifying in half a minute that which will need the testing of a lifetime“. [read more]

He had the same common-sense that Whitefield had a century earlier.
It’s a common-sense that seems to be very much lacking today:

“It very often happens that the converts that are
born in excitement die when the excitement is over”.

Today, we see examples of what Spurgeon referred to as conversions based on emotional ‘excitements’, not only in churches, but also in concerts:

  • Tony Nolan of the LifeSong Christian concert tour was said to have: “shared the gospel with humor and truth and over 1/4th of the audience made first-time decisions for Christ! Yes, that’s right
    765 people changed their eternal destiny
  • Another series of concerts (Winter Jam)
    generated 35,000 decisions
  • Christian heavy metal rock group Stryper (pictured) is said to be responsible for decisions and healings
  • Rebecca St. James’ recent concert tour
    created 15,000 decisions.
  • The singer Carman joins Bill Bright as another human attributed with one million decisions

I have no doubt that amongst the multitudes of “decisions” today, there are some that God has truly saved in the midst of it all, but as Michael Penfold explains, the vast majority of “decisions” simply end up “backsliding“.
Ernest Reisinger was right when he said:

“Too often modern evangelicalism has substituted a ‘decision’ in the place of repentance and saving faith. Forgiveness is preached without the equally important truth that the Spirit of God must change the heart. As a result decisions are treated as conversions even though there is no evidence of a supernatural work of God in the life.”

The question I get inevitably asked is, “if SOME true converts are coming out of modern evangelistic methods – some is better than none, right?“. But we need only look to the lessons learned from the Burned-Over District to realize that more harm can be done than good. Like others in that time period, Spurgeon actually saw danger in the new revivalism that was coming on the scene in his day (and is still with us today), saying:

Sometimes we are inclined to think that a very great portion of modern revivalism has been more a curse than a blessing, because it has led thousands to a kind of peace before they have known their misery; restoring the prodigal to the Father’s house, and never making him say, ‘Father, I have sinned’.”

At the root of all of this is a common error in modern times, known as “Decisional Regeneration“. It teaches that man essentially has the power to cause himself to become born again by making a “decision”. We saw this misunderstanding in the Christian concert description above, where it said “765 people changed their eternal destiny“. The Purpose Driven Life book teaches it, encouraging the reader to pray a simple life changing prayer. Though they usually don’t think of it in these terms, so many church leaders today believe they are getting man to save himself by making a “decision”. But Decisional Regeneration is simply not biblical, nor does it have historical precedent prior the the 19th century.


‘Decisions For Christ’ – The Measure of Success?

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