|Vol. 16 No. 10 October 2014||
Louis Rushmore, Editor
In western society in general, even among many members of the churches of Christ, purported conversion to Christ appears to be from the outside or superficially with some notion that eventually “conversion” will work itself to the inside and somehow result in conviction. How’s that working? Well, of course, it is not working at all! Instead, true church growth needs to be precipitated through conviction that leads to conversion. To indeed be true conversion, it needs to work itself from the inside to the outside – manifesting itself in one’s manner of life (Ephesians 5:8).
Unfortunately, much that passes in our day for evangelism – stateside and foreign, is purposely orchestrated to ease souls into the Lord’s church, after which planning to indoctrinate those “converts” with biblical doctrine and hoping that scenario will manifest itself in true conversion and conviction; that is completely backward, whereas conviction ought to precede conversion. How is conversion followed by conviction working? Well, of course, it is not working! Such tactics may inflate numbers and serve as the basis for future fundraising to repeat the process, but these things do not contribute to producing mature, fruitful Christians (Matthew 7:19-20). Usually coercing souls into baptismal waters with promises of Bibles, medical treatment, eyeglasses, clothes or other material benefits only temporarily swells the ranks of those who call themselves after Christ, and immediately they are gone as soon as the freebie-toting promoters have returned home; little to nothing remains in the wake of episodes like these either to establish congregations where there were none or to grow existing churches.
Sometimes Christians prompt non-Christians to “make merchandise” (2 Peter 2:3 KJV) or “exploit” (NKJV) the Gospel and the Lord’s church. Truly, whatever it is with which we draw men, we will have to keep drawing them in the same way to keep their attention, except that we will have to do so in the future with more pizazz and ever bigger and better allurements. Instead, we would do well to attract lost souls with the pure, unadorned Gospel of Jesus Christ, for it alone is “the power of God to salvation” (Romans 1:16). Benevolence (e.g., clothes, medical treatment) and edification (e.g., Bibles) have their place in our Christian service, but we need to proceed cautiously and judiciously so that we do not risk tainting people’s motives and displace the Gospel of Christ.
The outlook is no better religiously regarding eased in souls who linger without conforming to unadulterated, New Testament Christianity. As bad or worse than those who promptly go AWOL from the church when the freebies are no more, spiritually speaking, is the dilution of the Lord’s church with souls who either are never indoctrinated with biblical truth or who reject Bible authority. This is one avenue by which doctrinal error or the lack of allegiance to biblical doctrine infiltrates the Lord’s church “secretly” (Galatians 2:4) or “unnoticed” (Jude 4). The churches that belong to Jesus Christ are more than local social clubs of loosely affiliated religious people who lack any real conviction or sense of godly purpose. Do you know any fellow “Christians” who appear to be merely social club members rather than committed soldiers of Christ?
Impulsive responses to be baptized, without seriously thinking it through respecting obligatory accountability for becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ (Luke 14:28-29), are not satisfactory foundations on which to build faithful, productive Christian lives. Most of this sort of supposed conversions compare with the seed of the kingdom sown in “stony places.” “But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles” (Matthew 13:20-21 NKJV).
Furthermore, outside-to-inside responses to the Gospel typically lack the staying power necessary to endure obstacles to one’s Christianity. This is comparable to the seed of the kingdom being sowed “among thorns.” “Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22). Although no one is immune to falling away (1 Corinthians 10:12), an inside-to-outside response to the Gospel – conviction leading to conversion, is more likely to result in becoming a faithful, fruitful Christian. “But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matthew 13:23).
In Jesus’ Parable of the Sower, scattering seed on “the wayside,” “stony places” and “among the thorns” was accidental and unintended. Farmers mean to plant seed in fertile ground. Does it strike anyone as strange and foreign to biblical strategy to purposely attempt to produce “stony places” Christians and “among the thorns” Christians? That is exactly what outside-to-inside or conversion-to-conviction schemes try to accomplish. At best, the attempt is not practical, and true, lasting conversion is more likely to result from an inside-to-outside or conviction-to-conversion sequence.
It is time that members of the Lord’s church demonstrate that they are “not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ” (Romans 1:16). Lead with the Gospel of Jesus Christ in both conduct and teaching. Don’t try to friend someone into the church with the mental reservation of teaching him or her the distinctive teachings of our Lord afterward.
Imagine for a moment if every Christian had a deep down, biblical and life-pervading conviction. Think for a moment of a congregation wherein each child of God was a purposeful Christian who manifested deep-seated Gospel conviction about the way he or she worshipped, appeared on the job, approached parenting and made entertainment choices. Contemplate Christians who consistently put spiritual things first in their lives (Matthew 6:33) and who evidenced that they were pilgrims simply passing through toward a heavenly reward (Hebrews 11:10-16; 1 Peter 2:11). Envision Christians who were fully aware of the prophecies and fulfillment respecting Christ and His church, able to correlate corresponding Old Testament and New Testament passages. Visualize children of God who were fully familiar with the identifying characteristics of the church for which Jesus died to establish and were willing to submit to His “authority” (Matthew 28:18) as the Head of that divine institution (Colossians 1:18). Picture in your mind Christians whose allegiance to Jesus Christ was intense and who unreservedly thankful for their redemption could not contain themselves from sharing our Lord’s plan of salvation (Mark 16:16) with everyone with whom they came in contact (Acts 8:4).
There are no accidental Christians. Neither is Christianity, strictly speaking, inherited by those perhaps fortunate enough to have been reared in Christian homes; each person must own his or her salvation (Philippians 2:12). No one can become a real Christian through trickery or tomfoolery. True Christianity in a person is something that through one’s reaction to the Gospel, the Word of God works on him or her from the inside-to-outside via conviction-to-conversion.
With very little reflection, it is apparent that the churches of Christ need to be converted to Christ – regarding conviction, demonstration of Christian conviction and even in the ways in which they attempt to reach lost souls with the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ. That conversion process can begin with you and me as we genuinely and wholeheartedly examine ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5) with the inspired Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21).
Aside from all of this, troublesome times are upon us and likely to worsen. Have you purposed ahead of time to persevere in righteousness come what may (1 Peter 4:12-19), even if we were called upon to forfeit property, freedoms or even our lives (Revelation 2:10)? This, too, will require studied, unwavering conviction and true conversion. Let’s stand together (1 Corinthians 16:13; Philippians 1:27)!