Scripture Memorization and Personal Evangelism

The thought struck me today that perhaps part of the reason for the ineffectiveness of many in personal evangelism today is simply a neglect of memorizing key scriptures that have to do with the gospel. Yet it’s clear from the gospels and the book of Acts that Jesus and the apostles had the key scriptures from the Old Testament –probably those Jesus emphasized in his post-resurrection teaching ministry – at the tips of their tongues. In this, I think we do well to heed their example.

Memorizing scripture doesn’t require a razor sharp, photographic memory; rather it requires a basic approach. The scripture itself doesn’t seem to have much instruction about how to memorize scripture, except in Deuteronomy 6:6-9, where the emphasis is “Learn thoroughly; think about them; talk about them; write them down and keep them handy.” I’m on canned methodologies, since often the formulas and methodologies tend over them to overshadow any scriptural basis they may have had and become sacred cows in themselves. Rather, here is a basic method. This isn’t original to me, but I cannot remember where I found this, and I beg pardon if I cannot cite the source.

  1. See the verse or verses to be memorized three times (read them carefully).
  2. Say the verse or verses to be memorized three times (speak them out loud).
  3. Write the verse or verses to be memorized three times.
  4. Say them again out loud three times.

I would add another step here – say them to another person and use them in prayer and in conversation. That is also a big help to keep them in our heart and available for the opportunity.

I think that we also need to remember that knowing scripture won’t make us canned or superficial in our conversations. Rather, it is superficial awareness of the meaning of what should be a most deeply held conviction on our part and  a slavish emulation of the mannerisms of others designed to impress that makes  us canned and superficial. Spontaneity and creativity are not our gods and do not rule our evangelistic approach – but as we master the basics of the gospel within our own hearts, we can share the story and basis of our spiritual journeys with a true Spirit led spontaneity and creativity.

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Fool Proofing Our Churches

A few weeks ago, I read through Jan Silvious’s book Foolproofing Your Life: How to Deal Effectively with the Impossible People in Your Life. It is a wonderful book, based in the scriptures, and it does have a lot to say about dealing with a person, even a Christian or a Christian leader, who fits the Biblical definition of a fool in some way.

The question that I came away with was: Why are there so many in our churches who live like the Biblical definition of a fool? Why do they find it easy to live like fools in the middle of a church which ostensibly believes the Bible and follows the Bible? Is there some sense in which our churches function as fool factories?

I confess that I do not have much of an answer at this point to that question, but there is a situation from my pastoral experience which comes to mind. Some years ago, a young husband attended my church who was experiencing deep problems in his life and marriage. It came out over the course of time that he had had at one time a connection with a fellowship of believers and had even been on at least one overseas mission trip with that fellowship, though he had left any kind of regular church attendance and involvement before he was married. His profession of being a Christian was quite over-the-top, we may say; it was beyond assertive to be quite defiant, oppositional and antagonistic to be a kind of personal power trip, that when he went into a kind of short term self immersion in what he thought was Christian behavior that he felt strong and powerful and superior. Naturally, this kind of behavior was a tremendous provocation to his wife, since it was almost as if he was trying to be a Christian version of the cartoon character He-Man and his Christianity was a kind of strutting, crowing and and immersing himself in an in-your-face psycho-drama that ‘I have the power!’

It came out that when I shared the two diagnostic questions from Evangelism Explosion that he had never really come to a Biblically based saving faith. His outward profession of faith was all about him living up to what he thought was a manly, powerful Christian, but no trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of his sins and for eternal life. This was no conclusion that I had to force upon him at all, but when I gently and caringly shared the questions and then led him to such passages as Ephesians 2:8-9 he came to that conclusion himself. He was visibly shocked and astonished when he himself realized that he had never really even understood the gospel in the first place and what it meant to be saved by the grace of God through Jesus Christ. There were some hopeful signs at first, since he did pray with me to express repentance for his sins and trust in Christ as his Savior, and there was enough of a change at first for his wife to show up at church wondering what had happened and wanting to know for herself. Unfortunately, someone who attended my church with ambitions to be a pastor and an elder (but who would not submit to any educational course of pastoral preparation nor to any evaluation by any established denominational licensing and ordaining council but who would simply try to copy little things he saw pastors doing) showed up at his door, and we never saw him again at church, and my efforts to visit him again were unavailing.

I’m not losing any sleep over my church losing the attendance of a grown man who had all the resources of any number of easily understandable Bibles and the gospel preaching churches of North America to get the gospel straight and follow Jesus. I have prayed for him and his wife and I would rejoice in the news that he and his wife found a stable, Bible believing church and have been growing in Christ. Rather, I think that there are several things right here which indicate why our churches may seem to be fool factories.

First, we often seem to accept people who show up and say some of the correct things to have been truly saved. It is neither intrusive nor rude to ask someone gently and lovingly  who attends our church and seeks to be a part of the fellowship about the nature and history of his or her profession of faith in Jesus Christ. For what it’s worth, I’ve found that our body language can be of great help to draw people out to disclose what is really in their hearts; if we don’t stand in front of them and stare right into their eyes with an expectant, pressurizing smile that seems to be demanding an immediate answer, but sit beside them and let them speak freely, we can often find out their basis of trust for salvation. It’s usually possible to find out fairly easily those who have experienced a change of opinions and association from those who have experienced the saving power of Jesus Christ by faith in him alone for their eternal salvation. Jan Silvious does mention in her Foolproofing book that many fools who profess to be Christians were probably never saved to begin with, and I would definitely agree. I know that there are risks in putting numbers to this, but I would personally estimate that probably about a third, if not more, of the fools who profess to be Christians fall into this category. (And this brings up a problem that I think there has not been sufficient prayer and scriptural discussion: the problem of North American evangelical nominalism. I’ll leave the pastors and other Christian leaders who read this to chew on that for a while.)

Second, in addition, I don’t think that we say it often enough and loudly enough that our reception of the salvation of Jesus Christ does not make us in ourselves better than any other human being. The very heart of true repentance, the abject humility of the broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17), which is part of the Biblical reception of salvation, in itself entails the renunciation of any self pretensions of superiority, since it involves the admission of personal sinfulness, and this cannot include any pretensions to be a better person than any other sinner on this earth. In the classic work The Pilgrim’s Progress, in fact, John Bunyan made this awareness of personal sinfulness as the difference between a Mr. Faithful and a Mr. Talkative, and someone who came into the kingdom of Jesus by the Wicket-Gate of repentance and faith and someone who tried to slip in by some other way.

Even more, we need to say it much more often and much more assertively that  the fruit in our lives which comes after we have received salvation by faith in Christ is not something that we can crow about, but it is for the glory of God, to demonstrate his power and glory and not our own (John 15:6, Ephesians 2:10). Even more, if we find ourselves in a position of leadership in the church, it can never be about ourselves and our personal glory (“looking good” in front of fellow believers). This was something that I tried to make clear in my earlier post Who Is the Greatest?, and I would repeat: In Christ we are blessed with all his spiritual blessings in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3), and there is no indication that there’s anything in being a leader that adds anything on to all the spiritual blessings in Christ with which we have already been blessed.

As a final note, I want to go back to a point that I was making in my earlier post, Called to Follow, Not to Be Radical, that we need to back off of the hype and rhetoric about being radical and extreme as Christians. Quite frankly, I think that such hype may very well feed an underlying sense of self superiority and a foolish power and superiority trip such as I described earlier. It may well be a good idea for youth pastors and other leaders in the church now to issue an apology and disclaimer to the previously fashionable rhetoric and hype about being extreme and radical. It’s not about being radical or extreme – and no believer can find anything to crow about in whether he or she thinks that he or she is a radical or extreme Christian, and especially not if this includes any sense of being superior to any other believer or any other human being. Rather, it’s about denying ourselves, taking up our cross daily, and following him (Luke 9:23).

The Challenge of Discipleship

Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission, wrote about the need for men and women who would follow Christ in this world: “Cross loving men are needed . . .  There is a need for us to give ourselves for the life of the world. An easy, non-self-denying life will never be one of power. Fruitbearing involves cross-bearing. There are not two Christs – an easy-going one for easy-going Christians, and a suffering, toiling one for exceptional believers. There is only one Christ. Are you willing to abide in him, and thus bear much fruit?”

There has been a real neglect of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ today in the North American church today, and there is still a need for men and women who will follow Jesus Christ in this world, and who will bear his cross today. There is a need to good deeper in our understanding of what it means to have saving faith in Jesus Christ and what it means to follow him as Lord, and this means that there is the need to go directly to the explicit expectations of Jesus Christ himself. His own Word tells us what it really means to be saved and to live as his disciple. His description which he gave to the crowds and his disciples in Galilee is still his valid Word to us today on what it takes to follow him.

Jesus gave a description of what it would mean to follow him to the disciples and the crowds after Peter had declared him to be the Christ, the Son of the living God – the confession of saving faith. Jesus went on to explain how his identity as the Messiah would culminate in the cross and the resurrection, and even more. Upon the prediction of his own crucifixion and resurrection, he went on to give an explanation of what it would mean to be his disciple in this world. His expectations set forth the reality of what it means to live in a world which goes against being a follower of Christ when a person begins to take his Lordship, his Word and his commands seriously – and even more than seriously, to be the center of one’s own life. Certainly it may well mean the loss of the approval of others and of the comfort of this world when following Jesus becomes the only reason that one lives in this world. But even more certainly it will ultimately culminate in one receiving the eternal approval of God and eternal life in Christ.

“And when he had called together the crowd with his disciples he said to them, ‘If anyone wants to follow me, let that person deny himself, and let him take up his cross, and let him follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life on account of me and the gospel will save it. For what real advantage does anyone have to acquire the whole world, and yet to lose his own soul? For what can anyone give in exchange for his soul? For it anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” And he said to them, “I assure you that there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste of death until them see the kingdom of God coming in power” (Matthew 8:34-9:1).

Being a disciple of Jesus Christ means following him no matter what happens. Following him at all costs then demonstrates the reality saving faith in Christ. It shows to oneself, and others, even to the whole world, that belief in his Word and his promises truly is a personal conviction of their truth and certainty, more than anything else in the world.

Following Jesus means saying yes to his direction and no to every competing demand. It is a complete submission to him that cares only to follow where he leads. It is an overwhelming concern for his will alone that will ignore personal ambitions and the rejection of others to follow him no matter what – with no excuses, no prevarications.

In verse 34 Jesus himself stated what following him would involve: “If anyone wants to follow me, let that person deny himself, and let him take up his cross, and let him follow me.” We call it denial of self, taking up the cross and following him – but it is all summed up in following him. This directly followed his rebuke of Simon Peter, after Peter had the nerve to try to take him aside and correct him about his ministry culminating in the cross and resurrection. Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind, me, Satan, because you are not concerned about God’s concerns but the concerns of people!” So Jesus sought immediately to direct everyone to the concerns of God and not to those of themselves and other people. His call was first to the denial of self. This would mean the refusal of our own personal plans and ambitions for this world, and choosing the will of God above things that may even seem legitimate.  Even more, Jesus said that following him would mean a cross for everyone, and taking up the cross would mean facing the scorn and rejection of this world, like a condemned criminal on the way to the place of execution. His call to follow him would mean sacrifice and suffering for his sake, and his followers should in fact expect nothing better from this world.

This statement of Jesus tells us what it really means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. It is not the mere confession of him as the Son of God, as in fact Peter had done. It means the acknowledgment of him as a Lord so real that it means following his will no matter what one had originally planed for his or her life and no matter how others may perceive and reject that commitment. The call of Jesus never was just to maintain an institutional religious organization or just to keep up a certain set of standards or morality – though certainly New Testament discipleship means being part of a church and adhering to Biblical morality. Nor was it to follow any new set of religious rituals. Rather, it was to that personal adherence to him and to following him.

The call of Jesus to deny oneself, take up the cross and follow him has been defined as the cost of discipleship, and it needs to be renewed today. This renewal of the call would do much to eliminate the superficial and spurious conversions among those would are unwilling to receive salvation on the terms of Jesus. It would remind us that we have no permission to soften the terms and make things easier for those who prefer no personal sacrifice. It would bring back a healthy Christcenteredness and spirit of sacrifice through which the kingdom of God has always advanced and prospered. Even more, this call of Jesus is the path to freedom from idolatry and slavery which we see all around us in our North American culture.

Note, then, how the call of Jesus to deny oneself frees us from the idolatry of ourselves. It frees us from a deep slavery and addiction to getting what we want, getting our own way and handling things our own way at whatever cost to others and even to the will of God. This kind of deeply ingrained selfishness goes regularly excused, tolerated and uncorrected among modern believers in a way which would have been unthinkable even a generation ago. This is what leads to the terribly sick and deceitful habits and mania for getting our own way, proving ourselves right and manipulating and controlling other people that regularly continue among many professed believers – and is a deep part of the reason why they experience so little of the fruit of the Spirit and presence of God in their lives. It is because there is such continuing idolatry and slavery to oneself, and they have not set themselves firmly on the path of denying themselves and following Jesus.

Just has much, this also frees us from the idolatry of and slavery to our own reputation, even a religious reputation. His call also means freedom from an obsession with being cool and of impressing others with how we look, how we dress, how much we have, and anything else that we try to form into a finely polished image with which to impress the others around us.

The apostles had already responded to Jesus, as Mark had already narrated back in 1:16-20. He called Simon Peter and Andrew, and they left their nets behind and followed him. He met James and John also, and they left their father and hired hands behind and followed him. They had already left behind their livelihood and families to follow him, and, as Peter would point out in 10:28, this was leaving everything that they had behind to follow him. Certainly this has been what it has often meant to follow Jesus into vocational ministry and missionary service; it has often meant leaving behind houses, families, friends and jobs to follow Jesus. Sometimes it has simply meant leaving or changing one’s profession, livelihood and place of living. But this has been a part of the price that many have paid over the years for the sake of following Jesus where he calls. For example, V. Raymond Edman told the story of a man in Ecuador who wanted to go into the ministry in response to God’s call. His wife threatened all kinds of reprisal if he left his lucrative job. But finally he came to her one evening with a bundle under his arm and tears in his eyes. She joined him in prayer and tears, and then he told her what was in the bundle: “It contains my working clothes. I left my employment today.”

But whatever the cost, following Jesus at all costs is the path of eternal life. It shows a saving faith in Jesus deep and real enough to stake one’s entire life on the truthfulness of the gospel. It shows a trust in Christ and a love for him more than anything else in the world.

Jesus directed his words in verses 35-37 against a natural tendency to self preservation and to seeking comfort in this world: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life on account of me and the gospel will save it. For what real advantage does anyone have to acquire the whole world, and yet to lose his own soul? For what can anyone give in exchange for his soul?” Our comfort in this world and even our very lives are not to be held at the cost of denial of Christ and his gospel. These words were directed to those who might have been facing eventual suffering and martyrdom. They were also directed as a strong warning to those who would consider their mission in life to have a worldly position, affluence and comfort, even if these would come with religious trappings and religious guise. The Pharisees had all of those: comfort, affluence and religious attainments, position and reputation. They were the religious big shots of their day. But Jesus called his disciples not to be those who would tie their lives to a world which would pass away. Rather, he gave the challenge to all of them to stake their lives on his promise of the world to come, and even to be willing to lose their lives on behalf of himself and the gospel.

Each person, every human being, has an eternal soul made in the image of God, and is more precious than all the riches of this world. The call of Jesus means refusing the eternal tragedy of the person who tries to get everything that he or she wants on earth,and yet loses everything eternally. If it is true that each person was made to live eternally with God, then nothing on earth is valuable enough to risk forfeiting that destiny.

So here Jesus calls us away from our fascination with our stuff, with our possessions and our money as well. Certainly, in the balance of scripture, there does need to be wise management of our money and possessions, and the call of Jesus has not always meant absolute loss of everything – but it might and each one of us needs to be ready to take that step.

The believer who follows the call of Jesus at all costs does so because he or she has come to realize that Christ is all he or she wants and all that he or she needs. Even if there is earthly deprivation and rejection, there is the companionship of the Son of God, the power of his grace, and the irreplaceable and unchangeable value of eternal life, the treasure in heaven which Jesus gives. So this comes from the realization that following Christ comes to mean more than this world could ever offer.

So then, loyalty to Christ is a matter of choice and action. But even more it is a matter of personal conviction that one cannot keep silent. Being a follower of Jesus means openly declaring that conviction before others. This open confession of Jesus Christ as Lord is the expression of true saving faith in the heart. The declaration of personal allegiance to Jesus Christ is not something that can be kept only ultimately private and personal, but it must be public and definitive.

When a believer openly acknowledges Jesus Christ as his or her Lord before others, this shows his or her expectation of his acceptance of us in the same way in eternity. The reverse, though, is also true, that the refusal to acknowledge him before others also entails a false faith that will meet with his rejection as well.

In verse 38, Jesus described a refusal to declare him as Lord this way: “For it anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” In Matthew and Luke, he put it as the alternatives of silence or confession. The denial of Christ by silence and shame is the evidence of a spurious faith which will be answered by his rejection in the glory of his coming sovereignty. So Jesus spoke these words to encourage the personal stand of those who truly believed in him and all that he promises as Lord and Savior. His call was not to be ashamed of him, in order to please others and to fit in with those who were still in their sin and their rejection of the Messiah.

This open declaration of personal faith in Christ and allegiance to him before the world is still something that he expects from us. This is not something that that is often directly intended to persuade others to accept Christ, though it may often lead to those kinds of opportunities. Rather, it is the open declaration of one’s own conviction, the open expression of the saving faith of the heart, that is not ashamed of Jesus and his words before the world.

This gives the warning that an undeclared faith may come to be shown to be no faith at all. The faith which is put away, kept only private and personal, and not declared before others may be found to be nothing some day. This was the discovery of an economics professor at Yale University some years ago. He came to his position with a vibrant testimony of being a Christian, but gradually started to keep his mouth shut. He gave his account of what had happened in this way: “I never consciously gave up a religious belief. It was as if I had put my beliefs in a drawer, and when I opened it, there was nothing in there at all.”

Even more, openly acknowledging Christ in this life shows our realization that we may face him sooner than we anticipate. It shows that we understand that the course of our earthly lives may be cut short by the return of the Son of God in power and glory.

In 9:1, Jesus makes the statement, “I assure you that there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste of death until them see the kingdom of God coming in power.” There has been some ink spilled over what Jesus really meant by this, but in context it is simply his prediction of the transfiguration, which occurred in 9:28. Jesus told them that they would not all have to die before they would see the glory of the Messiah. In the transfiguration, the disciples saw Jesus changed before them, where he began to shine with his heavenly glory and his garments shone pure white. The disciples saw something there that they might have thought that they would have had to die and be resurrected to witness. In context, his statement was that three – namely, Peter, John and James – would have the privilege of a preview of his true glory. The point is that the reality was already there would demanded their decision, and it was not something that would have been postponed until later when they might have thought that they would have time, when they would have thought that it would be convenient and when it would fit in with their plans.

Thus, the open declaration of Jesus Christ as our Lord shows the anticipation that each day may be the one when he might return. Thus the goal is for the believer in Jesus Christ is to live each day as if Jesus were to return before the day is over. This would mean being forthright before the world now with the expectation that each of us will see him one day face to face. This is like the question that F. B. Meyer once put to Dwight L. Moody, on the secret of his success as an evangelist. Moody replied, “For many years I have never given an address without the consciousness that the Lord may come before I have finished.”

The attitude, then, of the disciple who takes his or her stand for Jesus is that the approval of Jesus is all that matters. The conviction of the truth of Jesus’s return and his eternal reward for his followers then gives the strength to declare oneself for Christ no matter what anyone else may say or do. And this demonstrates that one’s faith in him and all he promises is genuine.

So then, since Jesus Christ is coming back, the only realistic course for anyone is to be on his side when he comes. Then those who love him and declare themselves for him will find themselves with him forever.

The mark of genuine saving faith in Jesus is open acknowledgment of him as Lord and submission to him in one’s daily life. Thus the call of Jesus finds a hearty, ‘Yes!’ from those who have been truly born again of his Spirit. They follow him because he has given them a new heart and a new will that wants to follow his Word. They follow because as children of God by faith in Jesus Christ they listen to the voice of the Son of God. They follow because they have come to love the Son of God and trust his Word more than anything on earth. And they follow simply as a the response of the disciple to the Lord who has love him or her more than life itself. They follow the Lord who has himself left the glory of heaven to die on the cross for the sake of those who would not be ashamed of him and his words in the midst of this lost and dying world. They follow because the bond of eternal love and fellowship between the Lord and his disciples cannot be broken by the enticements of this earth nor the intimidation of others.

First of all, being the disciple of Jesus means that he is Lord and Master. It means that in our lives everything is his in a way what we can truly call nothing to be our own anymore. It means that the highest ambition and goal of our lives is simply to follow the will of God to the glory of God. So, then, if you have made the claim to have been saved by faith in Jesus Christ, are you his disciple? Did you realize that salvation entrails being his follower here on earth? Will you make it your decision now, as a new or renewed decision, to be his disciple, with him as Lord over everything in your life?

Then, being a disciple of Jesus Christ means not only letting go of the control of your life to him, but to be ready to tell the world that Jesus Christ is Lord. This means simply taking a stand for Christ before others regardless of whether it will please or offend them. If you want to do this for the first time, simply tell one other professing Christian that Jesus Christ is Lord of your life and that you will follow him at all costs.

But finally, have you risked any form of difficulty or suffering for Christ? Have you followed him despite possible or real rejection, ridicule and loss of position or reputation in this world? If you have, reaffirm now your suffering and difficulty now as your offering of love for the the Lord who suffered for you. But if you have been slack in denying yourself and taking up your cross as part of following Jesus, perhaps you need to examine the reality and depth of your faith in Christ. Maybe that needs to become newer, more real and deeper than it ever has been before, for the sake of the Lord who bore his cross for us to the hill of Golgotha, to suffer and die for us.

The Third, Fourth And Fifth Diagnostic Questions

Those of us who have been through Evangelism Explosion training are familiar with the two diagnostic questions to give an indication of someone’s assurance of eternal life and basis of faith for salvation:

  1. “Have you come to the place in your spiritual life where you know for certain that if you were to die today, you would go to heaven?”
  2. “Suppose you were to die today and stand before God and he were to say to you, ‘Why should I let you into My heaven?’, what would you say?’”

These questions can be potent beginnings of evangelistic conversations and impel people to the most serious soul searching that they have ever done. Moreover, these questions are good to use even if a person sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ doesn’t have time to go through the whole Evangelism Explosion presentation. I’ve used them as an introduction to briefer evangelistic outlines, such as a one verse presentation based on John 3:16 and a modified Four Spiritual Laws presentation. I’ve also used them in the conclusion to sermons to ask everyone in the congregation these questions. It’s a good idea regularly to share these kinds of questions as part of a preaching and teaching ministry, since showing up at a church service is not a scriptural evidence of eternal life nor a basis of scriptural assurance.

That these are ultimately the most serious questions anyone could ask someone else and questions for which someone had better be in possession of the correct answers, not in correct words, but in correct words and lifestyle, should go without discussion for anyone familiar with the gospel. In fact, Tom Stebbins, past Executive Vice President of Evangelism explosion, shared an experience of someone at an Evangelism Explosion training seminar who had gone through a near death experience. This man shared that he did appear before God, and God did ask him that exact question, “Why should I let you into My heaven?” The primary goal of each and every church, pastor, teacher and believer should be that to guide others into a scriptural basis and assurance of salvation. “And this is the testimony, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the So of God does not have life” (I John 5:11-12).

In personal one on one ministry, though, some people never know what to do if someone gives the correct answers. If someone is part of a team that is focused primarily on finding people with whom to share the gospel, then some sort of brief prayer and parting may be in order, to make the best use of the time together and find someone else who may need the gospel and be open to the gospel. In disciplemaking and pastoral one on one ministry, though, there are three others which may be appropriate to discern and assist real spiritual needs in someone who may have a Biblical answer for these questions.

The third diagnostic question is this: “Again, supposing that you were to die tonight, and you have stood before God and told him that you have put your trust in Jesus Christ for eternal life, suppose God were to go on and say, ‘Tell me what changes have occurred since you received eternal life by trusting in Christ?’” This kind of question would be helpful to find out how deeply into Christ and the Word that person has gone. It may unmask a spurious conversion, or someone who has remained in a state of spiritual immaturity for a long time, or someone who made a profession of Christ at one time but who has since become enslaved to a life-dominating sin.

Depending on the answers to the third diagnostic question, a person could be invited to a disciplemaking small group, or some other form of spiritual growth opportunity, with the sharing of scriptures as Colossians 2:6-7, II Peter 3:18, John 14:21, 23 and II Timothy 3:16-17. Or such scriptures as John 8:31-32, 34, 36 and II Corinthians 5:10 could be shared with those who are complacent in life dominating sins such as in Galatians 5:19-21. The basic idea is to work with someone who may be immature in the faith, who has never been discipled in the Word of God, or who may be complacent in life dominating disobedience to begin to address the spiritual need of that person. In these cases, there are two scriptures that actually do command one on one ministry:

“My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone else turns that person around [literal meaning: sometimes translated as ‘convert’], let that person know that the person who turns around a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and cover a boatload [literally, multitude] of sins” (James 5:19-20).

“And have mercy on some who may be lingering in doubts, but others rescue as if you were snatching them from a fire, and have mercy on others in [godly] fear, as you hate even the garment which is stained by the flesh [metaphor for the attending behavior marked by sinful practices] (Jude 22-23).

The fourth diagnostic question is one which many long time churchgoers may never have faced: “Do you know the gospel of Jesus Christ well enough to be able to explain it to another person and lead that person to eternal life?” There is also a variation of the fourth diagnostic question for believing parents: “Do you know the gospel of Jesus Christ well enough to be able to share it with your children yourselves and lead them to eternal life in Christ?”

The fifth diagnostic question is also one which follows on the fourth: “Are you sufficiently well grounded in your relationship with Jesus Christ and in the knowledge of his Word to be able to guide a new believer in Christ through the first year or so of his or her Christian life?” And there is likewise a variation for parents: “Are you sufficiently grounded and growing in your own relationship with Jesus Christ and in the knowledge of his Word to be able to guide your children to spiritual maturity as they grow up physically?”

Denizens of the Empire, Not Necessarily Citizens of the Kingdom

“But our citizenship is in heaven . . .” (Philippians 3:20).

I recently visited a number of Amish businesses in Holmes County, Ohio, to look at furniture. I was impressed by the variety and craftsmanship, saw that they did take their work seriously, and enjoyed talking to the young men and women from both Amish and old order Mennonite backgrounds. I was also impressed by the number of scriptural phrases and other Christian themes in the decorations that they had hanging around their shops. Certainly there would have been a witness to many who may have visited their businesses who were unfamiliar with the actual words of scripture. I found myself wondering, though, whether it would become old hat to many inside their businesses and organizations, and whether they might become insensitive to what was actually being said. Even more, I wondered how much someone could simply learn and repeat the accepted words and phrases and behaviors and seem to be genuine even while never having received the truth and reality into his or her heart.

But it’s not as if the young men and women that I met never had a choice. Those from an Amish background were old enough so that they might have had a chance to go through rumspringa. This would have been where they had a chance to view what the outside world had to offer and make a choice for themselves. A few months ago, when I was taking the Jet Express ferry from Put-In-Bay to Port Clinton, Ohio, I met with a group of Amish adolescents who were probably on such a foray into the outside world.

What I just wrote was in no way to criticize the Amish or Mennonites, though. Rather, I can see a tremendous parallel in the world of what we call evangelical.  With our church day cares, Sunday Schools, home schools, Christian school, Christian colleges and universities and Christian seminaries, ministries and organizations, it may well be that many of our young men and women are growing up as denizens of an evangelical empire perhaps as insulated as those who grew up in an Amish school and worked in an Amish farm and business, and who view going to a college or university as their chance for an evangelical rumspringa or escape from an environment which they found suffocating and in which they had no other choices than to say the words and participate in  the activities.

I personally didn’t grow up in that environment, and I don’t claim to have much of what goes on in the thoughts, emotions and motivations of those who have. Often enough, those who try to treat me as if I had – who try to push the buttons of the customary evangelical influence by preaching, lecturing, scolding and guilt trips – find that they are trying to press buttons in me which were never installed, and they get very frustrated with me. Occasionally I get some honest accounts of what it was like during private conversations with my brothers and sisters in Christ who grew up and eventually made their decisions to live as conscientious disciples of Jesus Christ – perhaps even after a time spent living apart from Christ. But the most complete account of what this is like I found in, of all places, Jeff VanVonderen’s book Good News for the Chemically Dependent. His account of how he grew up was that he found himself scripted not in following Christ in the grace of God, but in people pleasing behaviors, and thus he found himself falling into the partying lifestyle when he went to college through peer pressure.

I think that Jeff’s story of his being raised within the evangelical empire and doing all the accepted things, and then going off into the partying lifestyle is a typical face behind many of the statistics that are now being put forward. Apparently 20% coming through as denizens of the empire go on to follow Christ as adults, according to the exit polls. My own first impression when I heard these stats was: do we think that the parable of the Sower (Mark 4) did not apply to those who come up through the empire?

First, it should never be a surprise to us if false conversions are found among those who have come up as denizens of the empire but have not become citizens of the kingdom. I don’t thing these situations are less than rare, or any reason for a witch hunt for false conversions among us, but I do know of these kinds of situations. They include a pastor’s son, a Bible college student and even a fellow pastor – and they all confessed openly to playing the game before they really found the Savior by faith, and they shocked everyone around them when they truly did come to Christ.

Second, there needs to be a greater understanding among us that eternal life is the relationship with God through Jesus Christ: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3, King James Version). I don’t think that we hear enough preaching and teaching that mentions that it’s not saying the  things approved within the evangelical empire and participating in the activities of the evangelical empire that save, but the heart relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ. And even more, growing in Christ is growing in that relationship, not in getting better at repeating the language of the evangelical empire and taking on more ostentatious activities within the evangelical empire. Rather, here it is: “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus as Lord, so walk ye in him: Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving” (Colossians 2:6-7, King James Version).

A scriptural example of someone who was showed the outward signs of godliness only when under the godly influence of another is King Joash of the southern kingdom of Judah: “And Joash did that which was right in the sight of the LORD all the days of Jehoiada the priest” (II Chronicles 24:2, King James Version). The story of how he showed all the outward signs of being faithful to God when he was under the guidance of Jehoiada, but quickly led the nation into idolatry after the death of Jehoiada under the influence of his idolatry and peers needs to be mentioned in these days.

Last, when the denizens of the evangelical empire go out to their lives in the secular world of work and university study, I personally would keep them reminded of this passage from Romans: “And that, knowing the time, that now is the high time to wake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day, not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof” (Romans 13:11-14).

Called to Follow, Not to Be Radical

This is something that struck me this morning, as I was reading through the last chapters of the gospel of John. In John 21, where Peter asks Jesus, “What about this guy?” (John 2121), Jesus answers, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me.” (John 21:22; emphasis in you in the original language).

I’ve heard a number of terms over the years that get coined and discarded to describe the kind of Christians we should be. ‘World Christians’ was big for a while. For a while, the word, ‘Extreme’ or the creative spelling, ‘XTreme’ was used for a while. Now, the term ‘Radical’ seems to be used a lot.

The problem that I have with adding the other adjectives and superlatives is that Jesus didn’t do it. His call was to follow him – no words of radical, simple, world, sold out, surrendered and consecrated or extreme. And it may seem like this may become a desire not to be an average pew sitting Christian, however in your own church background and experience you may define, ‘average.’ And so that may also become a desire to be better than some others that you may see as average or below average in your experience – when Jesus’s call is to follow him.

So, if you do set out to follow Jesus, you may actually end up doing some of the things that may be termed at some time as being radical, world, missional, missionary, Spirit filled, or extreme – but it won’t be from attempting to be any of those things. And you will likewise avoid doing some of the foolish things when people try to be radical, world, missional, extreme or whatever, and they end up doing things that Jesus did not call them to do.

The Lost Generation of Church Going Young People

This is a description of a generation of young people whose parents attended church and who attended church with their parents.

  • They attended church as part of a family social convention, perhaps even from the time of infancy.
  • The parents acted one way at church and another way at home.
  • Young people who started to attend church or a youth group who weren’t a part of a family that attended the church were generally shunned, ignored, or ostracized if they were seen as a threat to the social prestige of the children of the parents who were church leaders.
  • The ride home from church with their parents could and often did become a hostile critique of others who attended church, the pastor and his sermon, and some who were related to regular church attenders but who rarely attended themselves.
  • Youth programs were generally social occasions, with singing and guitars, games and perhaps some kind of devotional from some kind of program. Attendance was more to get together with friends whose parents also attended the same church.
  • Traditional church music was old fashioned, with organ, piano and an operatic style of vocal delivery. Most of the words of the music were pretty hard to understand, and the style spoke to no one under 30 years old. Congregational singing tended to be a few good singers with a number of others standing around looking at the words.
  • Music that made an effort to be ‘contemporary’ and be hip and trendy to young people used guitars – sometimes acoustic, sometimes electric — and maybe some other instruments but the style was generally 5-10 years behind secular styles and seemed to be church cliches set to music.
  • There seemed to be an unacknowledged social competition among the parents as to who was doing better financially, who had the most prestigious job, who had the best looking spouse and who had the best looking, most talented and most popular children.
  • People who were even slightly out of place would be treated with disdain and gossip behind their backs and left out of many activities. Young people often saw the same kinds of ostracism that they saw in their high school social scene.
  • Most young people never heard an explanation of the gospel clearly enough to make a personal commitment of faith, and most were profoundly ignorant about the Bible, and most heard more about political and social action in the services and programs than anything else.
  • Social relationships among the adults in the church sometimes gave way to affairs, divorces and remarriages. The young people rarely closely saw a stable, loving marriage which they wanted to emulate.
  • Church leadership was more or less dependent on popularity, chutzpah, heavy financial support or position within the business community. Church leaders were members of a kind of financial advisory board concerned with operations and activities. Meeting the budget, getting bequests and trusts and building and renovation programs got a lot of attention and generated a lot of heat when there were disagreements.
  • No one on the pastoral staff had anything but the most superficial personal contact with anyone who was not a church leader. It would have been quite a surprise to any of the young people to know that any of the pastors had any personal concern for their salvation or spiritual growth or even to know that any of the pastors knew their names and were praying for them. Someone who would have taken a loving personal interest in them might have won them to Christ at an early age and helped them on the path to discipleship quite easily – but such a person would have been met with suspicion and opposition from the other adults in the congregation.

Is this the description of any contemporary evangelical church or denomination? Not at all! It is my compilation of my memories of how it was for myself and others of my age group who attended mainline, theologically liberal churches in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Any resemblance to the experience of young people today in any church is not coincidental – though I leave the reasons for such a resemblance to the prayerful consideration of anyone who sees such a resemblance.