Has the Church Lost the Plot?
An Open Letter to Pastors
Ive had an issue on my heart for some time. The issue is fundamental to the purpose of the church,
the body of our Lord Jesus. If I am right, we (the church) have lost the plot. If Im wrong, I
desperately need to be straightened out. I sent this letter to several people I regard as trustworthy
in the Lord, who know Scripture, who understand the issue, and advised me accordingly. I invite
the same response from you, the reader.
Doubtless you are very busy and asking you to respond could be a major imposition. I would not do
it if I didnt believe it to be the issue of overwhelming importance in the church today. In the
alternative, if it is not and if I have an improper understanding, I must be quickly disabused of my
The issue: Is the church fulfilling what Jesus told us to do? This issue has become of increasing
concern to me and has recently come into greater focus through books Ive read recently that
provide evidence that corroborate my thinking. As I see it, the church has developed a 20thcentury
culture of its own that no longer seems to understand or practice Jesus fundamental
command to his church.
Please bear with me while I express my understanding and how I came to this position.
The most complete statement of what Jesus told his church to do in his physical absence is:
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the
Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
Youll note there is one major command and two subcommands. The major command, Go and
make disciples of all nations. The two subcommands: (1) Baptize them, and (2) Teach them to
obey everything I have commanded you.
My first concern is that we seem to ignore/disobey the first command. I say this because of my
understanding of what it means to be a disciple. The 20th century churchs cultural approach to
making disciples of all nations seems to be to tell people about Jesus and, if possible, get them to
the point of praying a prayer of commitment to Christ, usually to accept him as Savior.
As you may remember from my book, What the Bible Says About a Saving Faith, I regard
language such as accept him as Savior as heresy and fraud. Nowhere in Scripture is anyone
called upon to receive or accept Jesus as Savior. He is to be received as Lord. Jesus saves those
for whom he is Lord; he is Lord of all those who are saved.
It seems to me and this may be partly due to my background as an attorney that our approach
to leading people to Christ often involves both fraud and deceit. One example of fraud is in telling
people to accept Jesus as Savior rather than receive him as Lord. I believe the resulting
commitments are worlds apart perhaps as far apart as heaven and hell. A deceit is to tell people
they must receive Jesus as Lord but then fail to inform them that they must give up the world and
belong to another kingdom, the kingdom of our Lord. The church sometimes deceives people by
stressing that salvation is a gift, which it is the true part, but fail (or refuse) to tell them the cost
that unless they give up everything they have they cannot be Jesus disciple. Some churches
emphasize there is nothing that can be done to affect or effect salvation, but fail to tell their people
that unless their righteousness exceed that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law they will not
enter the Kingdom of heaven, that unless they do the will of our Father in heaven they will not enter
the Kingdom of heaven, that unless they are conformed to the likeness of Christ they cannot be
saved, and that they will be judged according to what they have done.
There is further fraud with regard to the Holy Spirit. People are told that everyone immediately
receives the Holy Spirit upon becoming a Christian. That is true of the person who becomes a true
Christian. But if a person becomes a Christian by accepting Jesus as Savior only, there is no
giving or receiving of the Holy Spirit (according to Scripture). It is only upon committing to obey
Jesus as Lord that Jesus asks the Father to give the Holy Spirit and that Jesus then sends the Holy
Spirit to his new follower. As a result of false teaching, people believe they are indwelt by the Holy
Spirit but instead may have received a deceiving spirit who gives them false assurance of salvation
and assures them that living a life pleasing to God is not only unnecessary, it is legalism. That same
deceiving spirit may display false manifestations such as prophesying, speaking in tongues, casting
out demons, and healing the sick. Scripture says at the judgment the Lord Jesus will plainly tell them,
I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers!
My major concern is with the second sub-command teach them to obey all that I have
commanded you. The command is simple enough. Its fulfillment would be two-pronged. First
would-be disciples must be taught to obey. Second, they must be taught what they are to obey
the teachings and commands of Christ Jesus our Lord. If that command were obeyed by the
church, the other commands would also come to be obeyed.
Does the church teach new (or old) converts to obey all that Jesus commanded? I have been a
believer now about 18 years. During that time Ive been in many different churches throughout the
United States, in other countries, and finally in New Zealand. To my knowledge (and in many cases
Ive asked), Ive never been in a church, nor do I know of a church, that has undertaken to teach
new believers to obey all that our Lord Jesus commanded.
As I presently see it, most who come to true faith likely do so in spite of the church. When true
believers made their confession of faith, even if they used the language accept Jesus as Savior, in
their hearts they received Jesus as Lord. They hungered after the Word, devoured the gospels and
sought to obey everything Jesus said. That is what happened to me. After having come to know
that I must follow and obey Jesus as my Lord, it was in reading and studying the life, teachings, and
commands of Jesus that my life was transformed and conformed (to the extent it is) to the likeness
The culturized 20th century church seems to focus on bringing people to a decision to accept
Christ rather than to make them into disciples. But Jesus said nothing about having people make
decisions for him. He talked about making disciples true followers who would be like him.
Naturally there has to be a decision point to follow Jesus as Lord. This must be a thoughtful
decision because the commitment is that of a bond-servant to voluntarily follow Jesus as his slave
for the rest of ones life. A person making that decision must be willing to love the Lord more than
his wife, his children, or anyone or anything else. This is not a decision to be made after reading a
tiny tract or being hyped with an emotional appeal. Charles Finnie, as I understand it, required
people to hear the requirements of the gospel for days on end before he would allow anyone to
make a decision for Christ. According to my reading, he was said to have had the highest
percentage of converts who persevered as true believers of any known evangelist.
Ray Comforts Bride of Heaven, Pride of Hell confirmed my suspicions. Ray quotes statistics of
a major denomination in the United States which disclosed it obtained an incredible 294,784
decisions for Christ in 1990. Yet, in 1991, it could only find 14,337 in a Christian fellowship. There
were 280,447 decisions that couldnt be accounted for. The leadership had no clue as to why this
happened, but could only conclude, Something is wrong! The trend continued. In August, 1996 a
leading U.S. denomination revealed that during 1995 it secured 384,057 decisions, but retained only
22,983 in fellowship. It couldnt account for 361,074 supposed conversions. Ray told of another
crusade at which 600 decisions were obtained, no doubt with much rejoicing. But 90 days later,
follow-up workers couldnt find even one who was going on in his or her faith. In 1991 in
Cleveland, Ohio, 400 decisions were obtained in an Inner City Outreach, but, again, later not one
could be found who went on in the faith.
Ray quotes Charles E. Hackett, the Division of Home Missions National Director for the
Assemblies of God in the U.S.: A soul at the altar does not generate much excitement in some
circles because we realize approximately 95 out of every 100 will not become integrated into the
church. In fact, most of them will not return for a second visit.
This phenomenon is not unique to the U.S. According to Ray, a pastor in Boulder, Colorado sent a
team to Russia in 1991 and secured 2,500 decisions. The next year they found only 30 going on in
their faith. In Leeds, England, a visiting U.S. speaker acquired 400 decisions for a local church.
However, six weeks later only two were going on, and they eventually fell away. A pastor who
traveled to India every year since 1980 told Ray he saw 80,000 decision cards stacked in a hut in
the city of Rajamundry, the results of past evangelistic crusades. But he maintained that one
would be fortunate to find even 80 Christians in the entire city. That is 1/10 of 1%.
Ray also cited statistics of the Barna Research Institute which indicated that 62% of Americans say
they have a meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ. However, a Gallup Poll, taken around the
same time, revealed something interesting about a special group of 6-10% of Americans who say
they are Christians. Mr. Gallup said of them:
These people are a breed apart . . . they are more tolerant of people of diverse
backgrounds. They are involved in charitable activities. They are involved in
practical Christianity. They are absolutely committed to prayer.
Neil Anderson in The Bondage Breaker, page 107, states a similar statistic, saying that It is my
observation that no more than 15 percent of the evangelical Christian community is completely free
from Satans bondage. Though Neil generously speaks of the remainder as Christians, from his
description of them they have the traits of those described in Galatians, Ephesians and Revelation
who (Scripture says) will never enter the Kingdom of heaven.
Ray Comforts emphasis is that we dont tell the truth again fraud and deceit when bringing
people to Christ. As a result, the seed is scattered on stony ground and though received with
rejoicing the person falls away quickly in times of difficulty and/or persecution. Ray emphasizes to
the person his or her violation of Gods commands so that the person can see his or her guilt in
Gods eyes and be brought to repentance. I agree with Ray that there must be a 100% honest
presentation of the gospel.
My overwhelming personal concern is that the church teach Gods requirements for those who will
ultimately enter heaven e.g., doing the will of God, obeying the teachings and commands of Jesus,
and being conformed to the likeness of Jesus.
As I was recently writing a paper on predestination, I spent considerable time on Romans 8:29.
There I was astonished to find a predestined criteria for those who would be saved they must be
conformed to the likeness of Gods Son. I had never heard that before, nor been taught it in any
church, nor noticed it in my prior reading of that verse. The language clearly defines a necessary
criteria for those who will be saved. But I have never heard that taught and/or preached in the
church. How important it is to study the teachings and commands of Christ Jesus as well as closely
examining his life imitating how he lived in total submission and obedience to his Father. The
narrow gate seems even narrower.
A pastor friend gave me R. Kent Hughes book, Are Evangelicals Born Again? I was struck by
Kents emphasis upon the same theme, though he approached it through the Beatitudes in a manner
I had never heard before. He shows that the pronouns in the beatitudes are emphatic the
promises are for those, and those alone, who conform to the first portion of the statement. These
statements define Jesus life. Kent would say that all true Christians those really born again all
evidence to some degree each beatitude in his or her life.
Kent Hughes notes the accommodation evangelicalism has made to the culture and to the
assimilation of modernitys self-focus. He observes that many evangelical pulpits have abandoned
biblical exposition for the homiletics of consensus preaching the bromides of the therapeutic age
for felt needs as determined by pollsters analyses (p. 13). As a result of evangelicalisms
accommodation to modernity and assimilation of the culture, he says: Bottom line, this means that
becoming an evangelical Christian can bring little or no change in ones lifestyle.
Ray Comfort believes there are many false conversions. Kent Hughes sees people masquerading
as evangelicals without ever truly committing their lives to Christ and being born again.
My conclusion is similar. I observe scriptures which say that no one will enter the Kingdom of
heaven who does not do the will of God (Matt 7:21), that all true believers are predestined to be
conformed to the likeness of Gods Son (Rom 8:29) , and that the Holy Spirit is given to those who
obey (have the heart attitude to obey) Jesus (John 14:15, 21,23, Acts 5:32). I also conclude that the
policy of deceit and fraud, compromise and worldliness, has gained many false converts. Tragically,
this does not mean these false converts would not be true believers if they had been presented the
true gospel the whole counsel of God. They are false converts because they were presented a
false gospel. Some may simply be pretenders, comfortable in the Christian life-style as Kent
Hughes describes them. Others may have a truly false conversion, believing themselves to be
saved, but may be indwelt by a deceiving spirit rather than the Holy Spirit (Matt. 7:23).
I believe the solution is remarkably simply, but apparently rejected out-of-hand by the 20th-century
church: Teach the people to obey the teachings and commands of Christ Jesus our Lord, precisely
as our Lord commanded us to do. That incorporates Kent Hughes teachings from the Beatitudes
and Ray Comforts teaching of the commands of God which would lead to godly sorrow which
brings repentance which leads to salvation.
Teaching the church to obey Christs commands would do much more. We would learn how to live
as members of a different Kingdom, that we are aliens here, that though we live here we belong to
another place. Once again the church would be salt and light. The members of Christs body
would be so attractive that people in the world would seek us out because they would know we
have something they want to have, exactly as must have happened in the first century church.
As I began, I must end, asking you to confirm what I am saying or rebuke me from Scripture. It
seems unlikely that I would have a correct understanding of this issue while so many good,
dedicated men apparently think otherwise. I presently believe we (the church and church leaders)
have lost the plot. But I may be wrong. I feel much as Paul did when he went to Jerusalem to see
the church leaders there to determine whether he was preaching the truth.
Enclosed is an 8-page summary titled Obedience: the Mark of a (True) Christian (with citations
to scripture) which expresses several of these points in a more organized manner. I urge you to
carefully consider that paper as it points to the scriptures on which I rely for the opinions I have
expressed here. Please consider those scriptures as you, if you do, rebuke me for an improper
understanding of the place and role of the church in Christs Kingdom.
May the Lord richly bless you, your family, and your work and study. May it be a time of rich
harvest and extension of the Kingdom of our Lord.
In Christs love,