From The Day Of Penticost
Peter, led by God, seizes the moment, and preaches his heart out, telling how Jesus' crucifixion was the fulfillment of prophesy, and the last days were upon them. God had exalted this Jesus, giving Him authority and the promise of the Holy Spirit, which He gives to all who believe in Him, as demonstrated by the miracle of languages.
"Therefore let all the house
of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye
have crucified, both Lord and Christ. Now when they heard this, they were
pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles,
Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent,
and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission
of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise
is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even
as many as the Lord our God shall call. And with many other words did
he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.
Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day
there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued
stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of
bread, and in prayers." Acts 2:36-42
1) They were devout, already trying to please God and keep
the Law. Because they were Jews, they understood the reason for sacrifice,
and what repentance meant - determining not to sin again by the grace
This was the last time the Bible records such an event. After this, the Gospel would be preached to smaller groups in the Temple, synagogues, street markets, and house to house. Mostly it was "gossiped" by ordinary, excited Christians from decrepit hovels in Jerusalem to Caesar's palace in Rome. A religion made up of mostly poor, uneducated, working people and slaves, who were treated as equals in the new Jewish Sect.
Being "Added To The Church" Meant A Total Change
3,000 converts were "added to the Church." This meant they were baptized in water (with all that symbolized for the first century Jew), continued in submission to the Apostles doctrine, met daily for Bible study, ate with other Christians daily, shared their material wealth with everyone in the Church, and waited expectantly for Jesus to return. Please consider the next point. Peter told them they would also receive the Gift of the Holy Spirit. If anyone didn't receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, it was obvious. But they were so completely enveloped by the Church, it would just be a matter of time before they would repent and be saved. Undoubtedly there were a few tares, but the percentage would have been very small because of what it meant to be saved.
Except for the commune aspects of the early Church, the Reformers envisioned Church life to be the same holistic experience described in the book of Acts. If you read descriptions of Church life of various denominations up till the 1800's, you'll find a "fish or cut bait" practicality regarding salvation. If someone didn't join a church, and stay active in a church, they were considered lost. People outside of fellowship were not considered Christian. This world view helped keep those with spurious conversions inside the fellowship of Christian influence.
This safety feature was slowly eroded, however, when consumerism overcame tradition as the primary reason people "joined a church." That, coupled with revivalism that undermined the local pastor's authority, meant people who'd had spurious conversions, were less likely to stay with a local congregation and get saved.
Ridiculous Numbers "Getting Saved"
I'm sure we've all sat through a missionary presentation where we're expected to believe that 400 natives in a village that never heard the Gospel before, got saved. How different this is from the experience of missionaries before the 20th century. Adoniram Judson, America's first foreign missionary to India, worked for 7 years before gaining his first covert. David Livingstone, missionary to Africa (Dr. Livingstone, I presume) worked 4 years before seeing a salvation. William Carey, British missionary to India worked 7 years before he saw his first convert. Even today, when native missionaries are working in untouched Indian villages, one or two conversions the first year is considered very good. But send an American evangelist to that same village with the Jesus film and everyone gets saved!
It's Time To Stop The Nonsense
Modern evangelism sells Jesus like soap. A little bit of Jesus will clean you right up. If America Evangelicals are ever to reform evangelism, they must change the way they "sell" the Gospel. There are scores of books on "how to give the perfect altar call"' and "soul wining made easy." The writers are all well-meaning individuals. I was one of them. I too was a spiritual abortionist.
Swimming Pools And Salvation
Every salesman knows you never mention the negatives of a product you're trying to sell. Imagine how few swimming pools would be sold if salesmen were honest about the cost and expense of maintaining a healthy pool. The modern Gospel evolved naturally from, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." (Matt 16:24) to "get your free "get out of Hell" card."
The modern Gospel evolved naturally from, "And if thy right hand offend thee, cut if off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell." (Matt 5:30) to "you're just a sinner saved by grace."
Modern altar calls give seekers a minimum amount of information so as not to loose a sale. In fact, there's an inverse relation between the amount of information given, to the amount of people who come forward. The greater number of facts given, the fewer people come forward. The fewer facts given, the greater number of people come forward. The only problem is, the majority of people who come forward for "get out of Hell cards" aren't saved. That is to be expected. That, in itself, not the problem. The scandal of modern evangelism is we tell them they're saved, effectively inoculating them against the Gospel. (Unless God intervenes) And since modern evangelism doesn't require that the seeker get baptized and join a church, most people with spurious conversions return to their old lifestyle thinking they're Christian without further exposure to Church life.
The Chicago Fire Dilemma
Every evangelist knows the
classic story of D. L. Moody and the Chicago fire. D.L. Moody had preached
the Gospel to his regular congregation at Farwell Hall. According to one
account, the sound of fire engines disturbed the solemnity of the meeting
to the point that Moody decided it best to dismiss the crowd. He asked
them to go home and evaluate their relationship to Jesus Christ and return
next week when he would ask if any had made their "decision for Christ."1
Evangelism is a two-edged sword. On one side of the sword we have the Bible truths that God draws the sinner, God illuminates the sinner, and God gives the sinner the faith to be saved. On the other side of the sword we have the Bible truths that God uses Christians to preach the Gospel to Sinners so they can repent as God gives them the grace. Illumination of the sinner comes through understanding the Gospel. God has appoints Christians to be agents through which the Gospel is preached.
"How then shall they call on
Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him
of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?"
The Bible teaches that God knew D.L. Moody wasn't going to have an after meeting that night, just as He knew that Jesus would never heal the man at the Gate called Beautiful, even though he probably walked past him hundreds of times. But God also knew Peter would be passing at the appointed time. (Acts 3:1-8) Jesus obeyed the Father, Peter obeyed God. God knows who is going to do what and when. This does not remove the responsibility for preaching the Gospel. It merely assures us that God is in control. Our only job is to remain in communion with God so we can hear His voice and obey quickly.
This book does not provide a rationale for doing away with altar calls. Rather, it shows with empirical data that the modern altar call is deceptive if it implies that everyone who comes forward and repeats a formula "salvation prayer" is saved at that moment. Furthermore, without an after meeting where seekers can pour out their souls (repent) before God and get counseling and prayer from trained ministers, the percentage of true conversions is drastically reduced. Lastly, the telling of a seeker that he's saved by virtue of his outward act of coming forward and repeating of a formula "salvation prayer" is largely responsible for over 50% of Americans being deceived into thinking they're saved.
1 (I put "decision for Christ" in quotes out of respect for some of my readers that have serious objections to such terminology.)