[b]Apostasy in Modern Evangelism [/b]
[i]by John F. Walvoord[/i]
Most of us are aware that there is something wrong with the Christian church in the world. If an attempt is made to analyze what is wrong, it is found that there are many things summed up more or less in the word apostasy, or a falling away from what the church should be and believe.
We recognize that the churches of former days were often founded in the fiery furnace of persecution and made holy by the blood of martyrs and set apart for a work and as testimony for God. But the church with its historic background has fallen into evil days. We are living in days when names that had historic meaning no longer mean what they once meant. Churches that have had a great history are not being true to their history. We are living in days when the Word of God is being denied, when the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the deity of the Holy Spirit, and even the deity of God the Father is being denied. We are living in days when the sinfulness of the human heart is being overlooked, it not denied, and the need of salvation is expressly denied by many today. We are also living in days when the sinfulness of the human heart is being overlooked, if not denied, and the need of salvation is expressly denied by many today. We are also living in days in which many have turned away from the gospel, from the way of salvation which is given to us in the Bible. We are living in days when the prophetic Word is being disputed and disregarded.
These are days of apostasy. The word apostasy is used advisedly. Sometimes it is used indiscriminately. The Scriptures teach that there are degrees of departure from the faith. We can recognize, first of all, that there are some who are possibly guilty of error----that is, we disagree with them on some doctrinal point. Yet, as we consider their general testimony, we find that they are true Christians, true men of God, and men with whom we can have fellowship in spite of these minor differences.
Then, there is a larger degree of error that we call heresy which is a departure form the faith in some major area which may permit recognition of those with whom we disagree as true Christians, even though we have to withhold fellowship from them because of their departure from the Christian truth. But when we use the word apostasy in its proper meaning, it indicates a real falling away, not simply from a minor point of the Christian faith but from the very essentials, from the very foundation and superstructure of God's revealed truth.
When we consider the subject of apostasy in modern evangelism, we are not dealing with a quibble. We are dealing with the main difficulty--the departure from the truth of God. As we look at the world today, we recognize that in no area is apostasy more devastating and more dangerous than in the areas of evangelism. If we analyze the situation, we can see the danger of apostasy in institutions, in denominations, in missionary agencies, in educational institutions, and in church programs. In no area is apostasy more dangerous than in the area of evangelism, for it is here that the primary task is that of winning souls for Christ. If there is apostasy or a turning away in evangelism, the very root of a true Christian testimony is in danger. Those of us who would classify ourselves as fundamentalists recognize the danger of apostasy in evangelism. One reason why the Independent Fundamental Churches of America exists is because it recognized the danger of apostasy. We want to have a positive testimony for the truth of God. Personally, I am glad to be associated with a fellowship that everyone recognizes as being absolutely free from apostasy. Its doctrinal statement, its organization, and its conduct are so planned that it is impossible for a person who is an apostate to be a member and to continue therein.
There is need for something more than simply berating apostasy. We must turn our thoughts not simply to apostasy in modern evangelism but to the thought of the influence of apostasy in modern evangelism upon those who are contending for the faith. After we have viewed with alarm and have seen the difficulty, there remains the positive, constructive task of getting out the gospel. What are the principles of apostasy as far as evangelism is concerned? Are we in danger, unconsciously perhaps, of being influenced one way or another, in one degree or another, away from the pure and true gospel message?
Sacramentarianism: Salvation by observing sacraments
There is danger to those who are contending for the faith of being influenced by the apostasy of our day in three particular areas. There is danger of what might be called sacramentarianism. We contend for the faith and believe that there are two specific ordinances given to the church: the Lord's supper and water baptism. This is an area that has long been discussed and faithfully considered. We have recognized these as forms of testimony given to us in the Word of God for this dispensation. We also recognize that there has been danger in the use of these, which is well illustrated in the history of the church.
Go back for a moment to the fourth century and consider the great work of the church father, Augustine. Augustine as a young man was a wicked and immoral person living in desperate sin and estranged from God. Through the influence of a faithful bishop, he was brought to the knowledge of the gospel. There seems little doubt that he was genuinely converted. He was delivered from his past wicked life and in due time found himself a bishop in the Roman Catholic Church of that day, a bishop of Hippo in North Africa.
While his public ministry as a preacher was somewhat limited, he became a man who was mighty with his pen and through his writings laid a doctrinal foundation which even the Protestant Church has gone back to for many of its statements. As you study his works, you will find, for instance, that he upholds the scriptural doctrine, at least to some extent, of what we call the depravity of man. He recognized that man was desperately sinful. He recognized further than man could not save himself, that he needed the grace of God to save him. As we follow Augustine, we come to what is the point of departure. He said that the grace of God was administered through the sacraments and that the sacraments are administered only by the Roman Catholic Church. Ultimately this was developed and enhanced by subsequent leaders in the Roman Catholic Church until they declared the doctrine that one could be saved only through the sacraments and only as the Roman Catholic Church, through its priests, administered it.
Now you can see how, beginning with a relatively scriptural truth, Augustine departed from doctrine into what we call sacramentarianism. The Roman Catholic Church has, of course, seven sacraments, not just two. As these are analyzed, certain things are observed which are basically wrong. First of all, the sacraments are not the means of grace. God may use many things as a means of grace. He may use the Lord's supper and water baptism as a means of grace. We deny, however, that these are the channels through which the grace of God comes.
Instead, the grace of God is administered by the Holy Spirit through the Word, the gospel message, bringing conviction into the hearts of people and bringing them to a knowledge of Jesus Christ as Savior and by this showing them how to become children of God quite apart from the sacraments of the church. We deny that the sacraments are the means of grace. Further, we deny that the sacraments are necessary as a condition of salvation. We do not believe that either of these ordinances, as we prefer to call them, are necessary to salvation. It is not difficult to prove.
As we study the three crosses on Calvary's hill---Christ on the central cross and the two thieves on either side---we find that one of these thieves said, "Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom." Christ replied, "today shalt thou be with me in paradise." That poor thief had nothing to offer God except faith in the Person who was dying by his side. He had never partaken of the Lord's supper. He had never been baptized. What utter foolishness to try to imagine dew from heaven falling upon him and fulfilling the rite of water baptism! He was saved by the absolute authority and Word of the Lord Jesus Christ. How was he saved? He was saved by believing that the Person who was dying beside him was indeed the very Son of God. I do not suppose that the dying thief could have passed a very good theological examination. He would not have been recognized as a very good citizen in his community; and yet when he died, he went to paradise and today he is in heaven. I believe that, because he was saved by grace. So we deny sacramentarianism.
We deplore, on the one hand, those who say that the ordinances are not necessary at all and that we should not have them; and, on the other hand, we deplore those who say that they are necessary to salvation. They are, instead, a means of testimony divinely appointed to foreshadow and portray some portions of God's wonderful truth. While we should retain them, they are not a part of the gospel message. They are not the way of salvation.
Galatianism: Salvation by works
A second important area where perhaps we are in danger of being influenced is what may be called Galatianism or the false doctrine of salvation by works. All of us, when we have attempted to lead men to Christ, have constantly faced the answer, "Well, I'm doing the best I can." Now, of course, they are not, but they have in the back of their minds the thought that the way of salvation is a program of self-effort. Anyone who has had any instruction in the Bible would recognize first of all that it is necessary to put faith in Christ but some would go on to say that is not enough, that if we are really going to be saved we must add certain things to this, and then they begin to enumerate. In our state of Texas some of the churches advertise in the newspaper the way of salvation. Sometimes they will have five things necessary, sometimes seven, sometimes as many as twelve. Usually they tack on at the end that you must be good all your life and then, if everything goes well and nothing goes wrong at the last minute, you will go to heaven. By so doing, they have utterly perverted the gospel of grace.
A most significant passage of Scripture is Ephesians 2:8,9: "for by grace are ye saved through faith: and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast." If there is any question in our minds concerning the place of works in our salvation, these two verses should make it perfectly plain that, while a Christian is expected to do good works, his works cannot save him. In verse ten we are told that we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works; but while we are created unto good works, we are not saved by good works. We are saved, instead, by faith in Christ, by the grace of God, by God's work for us in Jesus Christ on the cross. Not one person except the Lord Jesus Christ is going to be in heaven on the basis of his good works. We are going to be there on the basis of faith in God and the finished work of the Christ. Here is a real danger to fundamental testimony: while we repudiate modernism with its program of reformation, education, and other things that replace the way of salvation, nevertheless, it is necessary for us to clarify the content of the gospel.
In the sixteenth chapter of Acts there is the experience of Paul and Silas. After casting the demons out of the poor woman, they had been beaten and cast into prison; their feet put into the stocks. At the midnight hour they were singing praises to the Lord in the midst of their suffering and persecution. God did a wonderful thing. He caused an earthquake and it opened the doors of the prison. Best of all, it opened the doors of the heart of the jailor who came down in the darkness and called for a light, and bringing Paul and Silas out he cried to them, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" This is a very important point: when a soul gets to the place where he wants to be saved he has come a long way out of darkness toward the light. But he is still not saved and he asks, "What must I do to be saved?" Paul and Silas did not answer him as many modern evangelists would have answered him. They did not say, for instance, "You must forsake your wicked ways: you must give up your worldliness, or give up your idol: you must give up your immorality; you must give up your drinking; you must give up your brutality; you just quit your job as a jailor; you must take a real stand for Christ; you must shed tears; you must repent of your sins," and so on down the line. They did not say a word about those things. Certainly this man needed to do those things, but Paul did not mention them. Paul and Silas together said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house." In other words, the gospel is not human works, or human testimony, or human things, but the point of the gospel is to believe in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
Perhaps it can be illustrated this way: if we are trying to save a man from drowning, the important thing is to get him to shore; to get his feet on solid ground; where he is what we would call, safe. How futile and unnecessary it would be if we were approaching a drowning man, trying to save his life, to enter into a discussion of the dangers of swimming, or of the necessity of having dry clothes when he gets out, or discussing the particular kind of suit that he ought to wear! No, these things can wait. The important thing is to get him saved.
As we face the task of winning souls for Christ as those who contend for the faith, let us keep the gospel plain. The gospel is not an exhortation to man to live for God; the gospel is a revelation of what God has done for man. The gospel is not preached by telling people what they ought to be. The gospel is preached when men are given something to believe about Christ and about what He has done for them on the cross. We should not minimize the importance of what it means to trust in Christ. The revelation in James that "Faith without works is dead," is correct, but it is also true that works without faith is dead. In other words, the gospel must be understood clearly. The important thing is to get a person saved. When he is a born-again child of God, we can deal with the implications of what it means to be saved and lead him out into the fullness of a walk with the Lord and fellowship with Him in complete separation from sin.
All of us have sung often the wonderful hymn "Love Lifted Me," the words of the first verse which are as follows: "I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore, very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more; but the Master of the sea heard my despairing cry, from the waters lifted me, now safe am I." Our safety in salvation did not consist in the loudness of our cry to God. It occurred when Christ, in answer to our confidence in His saving power, reached down and by His grace delivered us from the sea of our lost estate and brought us into the wonderful state of being a child of God by our faith in Jesus Christ. We have it put plainly also in the words of another familiar hymn: "Just as I am, without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me, and that Thou bidd'st me come to Thee, O Lamb of God, I come! I come!" That is it. We did not come because we were good, and God did not save us because we tried hard, but He saved us when we were willing to trust in the work of another, in the stifled the gospel just as effectively as though those persons did not believe it. This is not only true for the pulpit, it is also true for the pew. You say, "I believe the gospel: I believe that Jesus Christ died for my sins; I believe that I am saved by faith in Him." What are you doing about it? You are saved by faith. What are you doing to be a mouthpiece for the gospel of Jesus Christ?
There are many ways to preach the gospel if God's people were just willing. The Word of God tells us that in the early church when persecution broke out and Christians were scattered they went everywhere preaching the Word.
Paul went on to state a further thing in Romans 1:16 where it is recorded that he said: "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek." He goes on to explain how the righteousness of God by faith is contained in the gospel. When Paul said he was not ashamed of the gospel, it was not simply that he had the courage to tackle a person who disagreed with him and take his stand for Christ. Of course he did, but that is not the point. When Paul said that he was not ashamed of the gospel, he means that he had implicit confidence that the simple message that Christ so loved, that He died for us, that He rose from the grave, and had the atomic power to save anybody who really believed. He has seen it work! He has gone into a community where everyone worshiped idols and he had preached the gospel and had seen the heathen turn to Christ. He had gone into synagogues where they were enmeshed in a system of righteousness by works. He had preached the gospel of the grace of God to them and had witnessed the marvelous transformation that came as men were willing to believe Jesus Christ and the message of the grace of God based upon His work. Yes, he was not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Brethren, we are living in days of apostasy---apostasy in theology, but apostasy also in the gospel. May God give us the grace and strength to stand without compromise for Him, and without confusion to preach the word of Christ, salvation by grace through faith that is in Jesus Christ. May we preach it faithfully and in every place where there is an open door to extend its ringing message throughout the world.
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon