The Ordinary Means of Soul Winning

Article by Buck Parsons (original source here)

One of the greatest tricks the devil has ever pulled is convincing the church that it needs to become like the world in order to win the world. In the twenty-first century, the church has been seduced by the world rather than turning the world upside down. As such, the greatest threat to the church is not persecution by the world but the church becoming like the world. For when the church adopts the world’s tactics and schemes, the church in essence begins to persecute itself, and it ceases to shine as a light to the world because it looks just like the world. If the first-century church had done things the same way as the twenty-first-century church, it never would have been persecuted. Rather than being countercultural, the church has become counter-ecclesial in order to become culturally acceptable.

The problem is not only that many churches have adopted the world’s tactics in what they do but also that they have adopted the world’s message in what they say. Francis A. Schaeffer quipped, “Tell me what the world is saying today, and I’ll tell you what the church will be saying in seven years.” Schaeffer’s nearly prophetic assessment has proven true time and time again as churches adopt the world’s means and message in order to be liked by the world and influence the world to the end that they might win the world.

Pastors of such churches have apparently bought into the notion that in order to win the souls of the unbelieving world, they must mimic the unbelieving world. In order to be on the cutting edge, they have to turn to what’s new and fresh, to what’s culturally relevant and acceptable, rather than to what’s ancient and trusted and to what’s truly relevant—whether it’s accepted or not. And in order to remain on the cutting edge, these pastors must study the ever-changing fads of culture rather than the unchanging principles of God’s Word.

For these churches and their pastors, anything goes so long as there is no explicit biblical command against it. They argue that if God can use their means and message to win souls, then why not use them? While I heartily appreciate their ultimate aim, simply because God can use something is not a biblically sound argument for it. For in all of history, we can observe how God has providentially worked around all sorts of sinful means in order to accomplish His sovereign ends. But the ends do not justify the means—unless they are the means that God has ordained.

The reality is that many Christians simply aren’t aware that God has provided the church with particular means for winning souls. In fact, for several years after I became a Christian, I was unaware that God had ordained that the church use such means to rescue souls, disciple souls, nourish souls, and restore souls. I first discovered these means during my freshman year of college. I was at a Ligonier Ministries National Conference and was a poor student, barely able to afford my required course books. I came upon a book on one of the tables in the bookstore that cost only four dollars. It was a white paperback book with a photo of the inside of a cathedral on the cover, and under the photo was the title: the Westminster Confession of Faith. I immediately read the entire confession and its catechisms and quickly realized that I had just discovered one of the greatest documents that had ever been written. My entire world began to change. I was in doctrinal shock, and I have never gotten over it.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism’s question 88 asks, “What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption?” and answers, “The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are, his ordinances, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.” That all sounds much too simple, I thought. But I soon realized that if God has sovereignly foreordained the ends of all things, we must trust Him and His ordained means to bring about those ends. We don’t need to invent our own means or borrow the world’s means to fulfill the Great Commission of Jesus Christ. We don’t need to develop our own cleverly devised tactics and schemes to rescue souls, disciple souls, nourish souls, and restore souls; we simply need to trust God to do what He said He will do by the means He has provided. To do otherwise is to suggest that we know better than God and to set ourselves as a higher tribunal over God. To use our own methods, means, and message, or to revise God’s appointed methods, means, and message is akin to playing God.

It is also the reason why many nominal Christians who claim to have been converted to Christ in evangelistic crusades or in churches that employ the world’s means for winning souls fall away from the church in the end. They never genuinely trusted Christ in the first place. Moreover, it is the reason why many Christians who were truly converted in evangelistic crusades or in churches that employ the world’s means for winning souls later move on to churches that are truly concerned with fulfilling the fullness of the Great Commission by making disciples who are learning to observe all that Christ commanded—churches that are committed not only to reaching the lost but also to making disciples of the found.

The early church understood this. She was committed to fulfilling the fullness of the Great Commission through ordinary means of grace ministry, and by the powerful working of the Holy Spirit, the early church turned the world upside down. We read in the book of Acts, following the Apostle Peter’s sermon:

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:41–47)

What makes a church a true church is not simply a crowd of people doing things however they want and saying whatever they want. Rather, a true church is the gathering of believers who are worshiping God according to His Word and according to the means God has ordained. A true church of Jesus Christ is a congregation of those who have professed faith in Jesus Christ and who are committed to the unadulterated preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the whole counsel of God, prayer, and the proper administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which includes the consistent practice of church discipline. If a church fails to be faithful to these ordinary marks of the church, it fails to be a true church.

As such, there are many gatherings of believers throughout the world that cannot be considered true churches. Churches that do not practice church discipline are not truly concerned with sin and unrepentance and are thus not concerned with repentance and restoration. Churches that do not faithfully administer the sacraments are not concerned with the means that God has ordained to point people to Jesus Christ and to the promises of God. Churches that offer quaint, flippant, and perfunctory prayers and do not give themselves to biblically informed prayer have ceased to be houses of prayer for the nations and have instead become dens of thieves. Churches that do not preach the pure gospel of Jesus Christ and the whole counsel of God for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness—that God’s people may be competent and equipped for every good work—are in reality not churches at all.

Such congregations may indeed have many true believers in them, and such congregations may do many things right according to God’s Word. But in the end, they are only true churches if they are committed to the ordinary marks of the church to the end that souls might be rescued for Christ, that they might become faithful disciples of Christ in all of life, that they might receive the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and that they might become more and more humble men, women, and children who are offering their worship, praises, confessions of sin, and prayers to our triune God.

And as the church gathers for worship every Lord’s Day, with unbelievers visiting our gatherings of worship and witnessing what we’re doing, they may at first feel uncomfortable and out of place by our faithful observance of the ordinary means of grace. They indeed might be offended when they hear about God’s righteous standard, their wretched sinful condition, God’s law, God’s wrath, God’s judgment, and God’s eternal condemnation of the unbelieving and unrepentant in hell. However, it’s only when they hear these truths that God’s grace as it shines forth in the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ will have any meaning—all according to God’s sovereign means and ends, and all by the grace of God and for the glory of God, not for our own glory by our own means and ends.

Do the Work of an Evangelist

Article by Dr. Steve Lawson:

In his final letter, Paul charges Timothy, his son in the faith, to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5). By these words, the aged Apostle establishes the timeless standard for pastoral ministry, not only for young Timothy but for all pastors in every generation and in every place.

With Apostolic authority, this imperative command comes with binding force. All pastors must do the work of an evangelist. They must earnestly proclaim the gospel message, urging people to trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. So, where should this pastoral evangelism begin?

First, every pastor must preach the gospel to himself. Before any pastor can call others to repent, he must believe in Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul exhorts Timothy, saying, “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you” (1 Tim. 4:16). That is, every preacher must examine his own soul first. The success of one’s evangelism is, first and foremost, dependent upon his right standing in grace. Continue reading

What About Those Who Have Never Heard?

Article: R. C. Sproul: Are Those Who Have Never Heard of Christ Going to Hell? (original source here)

That’s one of the most emotionally laden questions that a Christian can ever be asked. Nothing is more terrifying or more awful to contemplate than that any human being would go to hell. On the surface, when we ask a question like that, what’s lurking there is, “How could God ever possibly send some person to hell who never even had the opportunity to hear of the Savior? It just doesn’t seem right.”

I would say the most important section of Scripture to study with respect to that question is the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans. The point of the book of Romans is to declare the Good News—the marvelous story of redemption that God has provided for humanity in Christ, the riches and the glory of God’s grace, the extent to which God has gone to redeem us. But when Paul introduces the gospel, he begins in the first chapter by declaring that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven and this manifestation of God’s anger is directed against a human race that has become ungodly and unrighteous. So the reason for God’s anger is anger against evil. God’s not angry with innocent people; He’s angry with guilty people. The specific point for which they are charged with evil is in the rejection of God’s self-disclosure.

Paul labors the point that from the very first day of creation and through the creation, God has plainly manifested His eternal power and being and character to every human being on this planet. In other words, every human being knows that there is a God and that He is accountable to God. Yet every human being disobeys God. Why does Paul start his exposition of the gospel at that point? What he’s trying to do, and what he develops in the book of Romans, is this: Christ is sent into a world that is already on the way to hell. Christ is sent into the world that is lost, that is guilty of rejecting the Father whom they do know. Continue reading

No True Evangelism Without It

martyn-lloyd-jones2_12There is no true evangelism without the doctrine of sin, but I say that a gospel which merely says ‘Come to Jesus,’ and offers Him as a Friend, and offers a marvelous, new life, without convicting of sin, is not New Testament evangelism. The essence of evangelism is to start by preaching the law; and it is because the law has not been preached that we have had so much superficial evangelism. Go through the ministry of our Lord Himself and you cannot but get the impression that at times, far from pressing people to follow Him and to decide for Him, He put great obstacles in their way. He said in effect: ‘Do you realize what you are doing? Have you counted the cost? Do you realize where it may lead you? Do you know that it means denying yourself, taking up your cross daily and following Me?’ True evangelism, I say, because of this doctrine of sin, must always start by preaching the law. This means that we must explain that mankind is confronted by the holiness of God, by His demands, and also by the consequences of sin. It is the Son of God Himself who speaks about being cast into hell. If you do not like the doctrine of hell you are just disagreeing with Jesus Christ. He, the Son of God, believed in hell; and it is in His exposure of the true nature of sin that He teaches that sin ultimately lands men in hell. So evangelism must start with the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, the demands of the law, the punishment meted out by the law and the eternal consequences of evil and wrongdoing. It is only the man who is brought to see his guilt in this way who flies to Christ for deliverance and redemption. Any belief in the Lord Jesus Christ which is not based on that is not a true belief in Him. You can have a psychological belief even in the Lord Jesus Christ; but a true belief sees in Him one who delivers us from the curse of the law. True evangelism starts like that, and obviously is primarily a call to repentance, ‘repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.’


Letter to the Unsaved

lostsheepLetter to the Unsaved by Rev James Smith (1802-1862)

Dear unsaved friend, and then sign it — if you agree to it.

I am resolved to persevere in sin, and follow the maxims and customs of those around me — though it costs me the loss of my soul, and exposes me to everlasting damnation.

I am resolved to reject the Son of God — I will not embrace Him as my Saviour, or have Him reign over me. I am resolved that I will not accept the pardon which God presents to me in the gospel, though it cost Jesus His life to procure it — and I know I must eternally perish without it. I am determined not to submit to God’s way of salvation, and I consent to be lost forever! I have made up my mind, that I will never consent to receive a free salvation by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ — I will not have it!

I am resolved . . .to reject God’s message, to dare His justice, to defy His power, to refuse His mercy, to brave His threatened wrath, and to harden myself against all His invitations, expostulations, exhortations, and promises!

I am resolved that I will not . . . bow to His authority, yield to His entreaties, believe on His Son, repent of my sins, love His name, or obey His precepts!

I am determined that there shall never be joy in Heaven among the angels of God — on account of my conversion.

I will never . . . desert the ranks of Satan, give up my sinful practices, ask for mercy at God’s hands, or take up my cross and follow Christ!

I am resolved . . . to keep on in my old wicked course, to persevere in my present sinful path, to associate with my carnal companions — and if it secures my eternal damnation — then let it do so!

I will not receive salvation on God’s terms, I will not stoop to be saved by grace alone, I will not take the yoke of Christ upon me, and engage to be His subject and servant — even though Heaven and all the glories of eternity would be secured by it.

If I cannot escape the wrath of God — but by faith, repentance, and holiness — why, I am determined go to Hell, for I am resolved not to yield to any such terms!

It is of no use for the preacher to spend His breath upon me! My mind is made up, I will be my own master, I will take my own course! No one has any right to interfere with me — for I shall injure no one but myself!

I have no objection to going to church, or to attending to some religious forms — but to give my heart to God, to be crucified to the present world, and to make God’s glory the end of life — will never do for me; therefore I gladly take the consequences.

If this is required of those who would be true Christians — then you must stop urging me — for I will not yield! You must stop all attempts to convert me, for my mind is made up! I have heard hundreds of sermons, I have read the Bible myself — but I have hardened myself against the whole, and I am not going to yield now!

Tell me no more of the Saviour’s love, tell me no more of the pleasures of holiness, tell me no more of the terrors of death, tell me no more of the dreadful judgment, tell me no more of the joys of Heaven, tell me no more of the agonies of Hell — for you will never induce me to yield myself unto God, and seek the salvation of my soul. For my mind is made up, and my daily conduct is enough to convince you of it, if anything would. I am resolved not to yield — let the consequences be what they may!

I will go on just as I have done! I will not be Christ’s servant! I will not be God’s child! I will obey only Satan! I will follow the course of this evil world! I will serve my lusts and pleasures!

In proof thereof, witness my signature, ____________.

Will you now sign your name? Will you now solemnly put your seal to this statement? Why are you so afraid?

Do not your actions speak louder than your words? Is not your daily practice stronger proof — than just putting your name to a statement once? If you do not say the above in words — yet if you do so in your actions — then where is the difference? Does not God read the language of your life? If you say it in your daily practice — then why not boldly take the pen and openly sign your name?

Soon the judgment shall be set, and the books shall be opened — and your criminality and folly shall be published before assembled worlds!

Well, will you sign the above? Why not? Is it true of you — or is it not?