Friday, March 9, 2012

THE GOSPEL & easy believeism

As can be expected, there are varying understandings of The Gospel of Jesus Christ, how it should be presented and what it means to become a follower of Christ. Ultimately there is only one that is in keeping with the whole of God's Word. One approach that has caused much dissension within evangelicalism is best known as easy believeism. When discussing this topic with my pastor, he recommended I read some of what MacArthur had to say on the subject, and honestly I found his writing to be very clarifying. For anyone who would like to read about it at greater length (and from someone far more scholarly than I) check out The Gospel According to The Apostles by John MacArthur. MacArthur makes distinction between decisionism and easy believism in his book, I make no such distinction here. Although easy believeism is not a prerequisite for decisionism, they often go hand in hand and both come from a faulty hermeneutic; easy believeism most often employs decisionism but it is not always the case in reverse. This will become more apparent.

I came across the following quote as the heading for chapter 12;
"If you were to suggest that the time would come when a group of evangelical Christians would be arguing for a salvation without repentance, without a change of behavior or lifestyle, without a real avowal of the lordship and authority of Christ, without perseverance, without discipleship, and a salvation which does not necessarily change one's life, most believers of several decades ago would have felt such would be an absolute impossibility. But believe it or not, the hour has come." ~ Richard P. Belcher
Although it may seem that this is not an issue we should even need discuss, there was a time, not all that long ago, when I would not have understood the distinctives of easy believeism and would have very quietly slid in under it's umbrella as an over arching understanding of The Gospel at large. So I approach this topic with respect and openness, and hopefully with a humility that recognizes God's Word as the final authority on everything.

Easy believeism holds hands with high pressure evangelism and sheds the very important distinctives of The Gospel and discipleship for the sake of simplicity and expediency.

Perhaps the best way to begin would be to explain what it is not. The Gospel of Jesus Christ begins with God and His Holiness (Leviticus 11:44-45). It begins with just who God is as outlined in His Word {Holy (1 Samuel 2:2), Immutable (Psalm 102:25-27) Creator (Genesis 1:1, Colossians 1:16), Eternal (Isaiah 44:6), Justice (Job 34:12), Truth (John 14:6), Powerful (Genesis 1), Jealous (Exodus 20:4-5), Merciful (Psalm 136:1), Wrathful (Romans 2:6-11), Patient (Nahum 1:3), Compassionate (James 5:11), Omnipresent (Jeremiah 23:23-24), Omniscient (Psalm 147:4-5), etc.}.

We live in a world where you will have as many understandings of the word god (and Jesus) as the number of times you ask the question (Ezekiel 22:28, Mark 13:6; 21-22) - it is vital to begin the gospel with who God is, emphasizing His perfect Holiness; that He is all of His attributes all of the time in perfect harmony. Based on scripture we are not meant to assume anyone has any real understanding of God outside of His Word.
"no one understands; no one seeks for God." ~ Romans 3:11
The Gospel of Jesus Christ then teaches us who we are - our perfect creation and subsequent fall into sin. Our relationship to Adam and fall into sin is an important distinctive that must not be overlooked. (Romans 5:12-21) Mans attributes of sinfulness is a topic that is repeated thematically throughout the Old Testament, over and over - the Old Testament highlights for us our need for a Sacrificial Lamb - our need for redemption. The entirety of the Old Testament points to Christ, it is the meat of the Gospel that is overlooked by easy believeism.
"The law reveals our sin (Romans 3:20) and is a tutor to lead us to christ (Galatians 3:24)" ~ John MacArthur
The highlighting of our sin and our separation from God - that God is perfect (Deuteronomy 32:3-4) and Triune (Ephesians 4:4-6) and Holy (1 Samuel 2:2) and everything that is not perfect and Holy is separated from Him and that this separation is called sin (Romans 6:13 & 23, 1 Peter 2:24, Isaiah 53:6, Luke 16:15, Deuteronomy 25:16). The conclusion of the gospel is then the story of Christ, His Deity (John 1:14, John 10:36, John 5:32,37), His sacrifice of life and death and His resurrection. It is then the work of the Holy Spirit to convict, (John 16:8, 2 Thessalonians 2:3-10) and our role to disciple and guide and teach (Matthew 28:16-20, Acts 1:8)

Easy believeism snags passages of scripture from the New Testament (often out of context) and makes the gospel as palatable as possible. Neglecting the work of discipleship and teaching, it requires only that an individual believe in God (or god) and that belief alone is sufficient to "get to Heaven". Easy believeism often does not even quantify what it means to "believe".

There are two significant issues with this; One, the motivation for coming to the point of "accepting Christ" is as a method of "fire insurance" (or to keep ones self from the fires of Hell). It is done strictly for the best good of self - to save ones own soul by enacting a formula. We cannot disregard the patent humanistic approach here. When the gospel is presented as a way of betterment of life, even only in the idea of eternal delight in heaven, we have done a great disservice to the truth of God's Word. Ones motive for coming to Christ is an evidence of one's understanding of just who God is and our position of separation before Him. If someone is seeking a relationship with God for the sake of saving their own soul, they do not yet fully grasp the Holiness of God and why He deserves our complete surrender. Eternal life with God in heaven is a beautiful byproduct of coming to Christ, it is a consequence and should not be a causation. (John 14:3, 2 Peter 3:12) Presenting the gospel as a mode or method of achieving eternal life is tantamount to the Prosperity Gospel. The idea that life is better with Christ is not a Biblical one, we are told throughout scripture that a life of following Christ is one of adversity and difficulty (John 15:18-25, Matthew 10:22).
"And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me." ~ Luke 9:23
There is an even greater issue with an easy believeism presentation that arises. Take the following dialogue as an example:
"Billy are you saved?"
"Do you want to go to heaven?"
"Yes - I suppose so"
"Well you know Jesus died for your sins and all you have to do is invite Him into your heart - and you can go to heaven"
This is an excellent example of an easy believeism presentation. It does not take into account the gospel at large. Consider these questions; Who does Billy think God (god) is? If he has not read the Bible or been taught, his perspective of who God (god) is will be based solely on his cultural and religious influences. One must assume that he most likely has very little concept of the God of the Bible (Romans 3:11). What does Billy think sin is? Who is Jesus in Billy's estimation? What is heaven? These are all questions we should ask Billy and talk to Billy about to avoid a false confession.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ does not exclude the need for repentance... easy believeism ignores this very important fact. Christ Himself called for repentance;
"and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” ~ Mark 1:15
Another issue with this sort of presentation is the "invite Jesus into your heart" tact. Nowhere in scripture are we asked to invite Jesus to live in our hearts. This idea originates from Revelation 3:20 " Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me." and is the result of a faulty hermeneutic. This passage was written to a church of believers, not to a single unbelieving individual. It does not draw the picture that we are led to believe that it draws. This approach suggests that we ourselves can do something that will lead to our own salvation; ie: say a "sinners prayer". Scripture teaches us that Christ alone can save us. (Romans 1:16) Once again, inviting Jesus to live in your heart is a formula for salvation that completely disregards repentance and in many cases any need for any real Biblical belief in God or acknowledgement that He is perfect Holiness and Lord.

We are taught in God's Word that we must come before the Throne of Grace in humility and fear (Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 9:10) and confess our sins - repent of our sin and profess our faith - our belief - acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the Lord of the Universe. Repentance is so much greater than simply "saying sorry". To apologize or say "I'm sorry" implies that it is done for the sake of self, out of fear of the consequences alone. True Biblical repentance is a turning away from sin, a shedding of that which separates us from God, for the sake of His Holiness.
"but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance." ~ Acts 26:20
Belief is so much more than simply acknowledging the existence of God. Easy believeism can completely ignore the difference between believing God exists and acknowledging that God is Lord of the Universe (there is a vast difference there). True Belief is falling on your face before the God of the Universe and confessing that He is the Lord of ALL (1 Chronicles 29:11, Acts 16:31)
"You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!" ~ James 2:19
The great comission calls us to make disciples and teach (Matthew 28:19-20) - easy believeism wants us to convict and to save - and we cannot, are not qualified to and should not try.

There are two excellent examples in scripture of Jesus Christ himself engaged in evangelism (there are far more than two, but I have chosen these two). In neither situation does He suggest someone should walk an aisle, sign a card, raise a hand, pray a prayer, or any other formulaic response to the message of the gospel (these are all tactics of decisionism, often employed by easy believeism). Both of the following examples condemn easy believeism as faulty and incomplete presentations of His Word and the relationship with Him that can only begin with our repentance.

Read how Christ responds to the rich young ruler in this passage: Matthew 19:16-22. How many evangelical Christians would have led this young man, apparently sincere, in the sinners prayer; given him a false sense of relationship with Christ and ushered him on his way to a life of ignorance and a false confession? Christ sent him away because he was unwilling to abandon his life to God! There is a great lesson here.

Read how Christ leads the thief to repentance on the cross, Luke 23:39-43. Jesus did not make any demands of the man, and the man did not utter a prayer; he simply confessed that Jesus was Lord and acknowledged first that he was indeed a sinner and second that there were consequences of his sin that he most certainly deserved.

Neither of these examples offer any hint of the easy believeism method of evangelism that is pervasive among evangelical churches today. The Gospel of Jesus Christ has value, it has great value. It is the single most important thing you will ever come to understand and the single most important thing you will ever communicate. It absolutely deserves your attention and a clarity of presentation; it is worth the time needed for the discipleship expected of us. God has given us the entire Bible to communicate the gospel to us, why do we feel the need to reduce it to formulas and over simplified untruth?

We must shout the gospel from our very lives. Live it always, preach it as often as possible, and disciple everyone that we come into contact with. We must plead with people to hear the gospel and to know God.

The Gospel is not complicated, mankind in our depravity )Ephesians 4:17-18, I Corinthians 2:14, Jeremiah 17:9, Ephesians 4:19, Romans 7:24, I Timothy 4:2) are complicated (which is something I will talk about in a subsequent blog post).

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