Not a week passes, that I don’t hear reports on Christian radio, in church, or in a ministry newsletter about how many people “got saved” or “gave their lives to Christ” at some evangelistic meeting somewhere.
At best, those claims are made because that’s just the way we speak in the evangelical world. At worst it’s a falsehood. Personally, I believe it’s the former. Church and missions groups have used this language so long that they don’t even think about what a preposterous and presumptuous claim they’re making.
Every single person who came forward, or signed a card, or raised their hand in response to the gospel being preached, was actually, truly, born again? Really? Years ago, I was the president of the John Guest Evangelistic Team. John was a rock solid, gifted evangelist and for five years, our team of 12 staff and I, helped cities organize large evangelistic meetings. (Think Billy Graham crusades, but smaller.)
Early on John, our board and I decided we were going to use different language to describe those who responded to John’s alter calls. So, we said something like this in our reports: “At last week’s meeting in Orlando, 2,116 people came forward in response to John’s message.”
“Coming forward” lacks the punch of “gave their lives to Christ,” but it’s the only thing we could honestly say. It was our experience people came forward for all kinds of reasons. Some were unemployed or sick and they wanted God to fix that. Others were Christians re-dedicating themselves to God. Still others wanted to take the next step in becoming a Christian or they simply wanted to know more about Jesus. And some may have actually come to faith, that night! But the truth is, we couldn’t honestly say which was which. Perhaps all of them came to faith, or none of them did. Even those who come forward, couldn’t honestly say! So, we decided the only theologically honest thing to say was they responded to John’s message and we left the rest in God’s hands.
What can you do? If you agree with my observations, please share them with others. Share this blog with your mission’s pastor and urge him/her to use more intellectually, and spiritually honest language and ask that the missions agencies they work with do the same. But prepare for resistance!
There’s a lot more sizzle in saying “x number of people gave their lives to Christ,” than the language I’ve suggested. But, it’s misleading, and wrong and Christians should never consciously do either. That’s the kind of hypocrisy that drives non-Christians or young Christians crazy – and it should.
How following Jesus works in real life.
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