CONVERSIONSTORIES AS STRATEGYWHY YOU WILL BE MY WITNESSES IS CRUCIAL2
INFLUENCESWhat can we do?
Our Conversion Story As Strategy
PLACE THESE IN (SOME) ORDER2___FAITH ___CONVICTION___GRACE ___REGENERATION ___ASSURANCE ___CONVERSION ___BAPTISM ___REPENTANCE ___CALLING ___SALVATION ___DEVOTION___TRUST___BELIEF ___JUSTIFICATION ___PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL ___CHURCH MEMBERSHIP ___RECEIVING THE HOLY SPIRIT ___FORGIVENESS OF SINS ___SANCTIFICATION___CONSIDERATION/CONTEMPLATION
It was right here in 1976 that I knelt and first acknowledge Gods presence in my life. Ken Pierpont was the speakerI actually still keep in touch with Ken. I mostly responded to see what it was all about up here at this altar thing. A person or two knelt with me and prayed I guess. The first initial thought I had at 8 yrs old was, So this is what its all about? I was emotionally neutral I guess, drawn by the wonder. Kids were dismissed to free time, and as I got up to go, Ken Pierpont stopped me and dont remember the exact words he said but this, in essence, is what I remember, So Kent, what happened up here today? I didnt really know, remember not much really, but something happened with his question which makes me a firm believer in two things I will share in a moment. With his question came an uncomfortable churning inside. Then Ken followed up with the words something like, Did you ask Jesus into your heart? or perhaps, Did you invite God into your life? The words arent important to me; It was that follow up that made all of the difference for me for at that moment something else happened: I call it a Light that came in. I so wanted to tell him Yes! I wanted it to be trueI wanted to make that SO this is what its all about being up here (even though it wasnt), it was claimed as such with Kens help. God was doing something in me using Kens words like LIGHT to my mind and to my heart, and that unknown moment was transformed from a questionable moment into an identified one.Here are the two things I firmly believe because of that event in my life: Spiritual leaders need to know the story of God well and able to help people know where they fit into it, so that they can teach them the language of their own conversion. Ken could have left me in darkness and sympathized with my uncomfortable inner churning, he could have left me to figure things out on my own, he could have been distracted by the others in the room (the pretty girls) and had easily dismissed an 8 year old boy. Ken didnt. By Gods grace and mercy and work in Kens life, Ken spoke into my life the things of God and it was LIGHT. I think thats why it was uncomfortable. An unknown presence was gaining access into me and something inside didnt like it. I was being awakened to God in my mind to come to Him and trust Him that it would take years later for me to put into words, but the words did come.Every denomination and tradition has its own way of communicating what happens to people when they are converted. Give me some phrases you have heard people use or you yourself use to describe it. After Ken asked me that question, as I expressed, something happened inside. My heart was softened in a way as never before and tears came to my eyes as my words that I could not say and I stood there and just nodded to Ken whose face I can still see with his blond hair and those glasses and he gave me a comforting side hug and spoke encouraging words to meagain, there are some fuzzy spots and mostly impressions that I am trying to put words to. Another thing I believe is there is power in retelling our stories. Do you remember those two who were on the Emmaus Road walking with that stranger who was later revealed to them and how they knew something else was going on! Did not our hearts BURN? Even before they knew it was Jesus!!!There is a problem that has developed in the last century rooted in the revivalist mentality that I personally do not believe was intended. We now divide salvation into a decision/disciple or Savior/Lord process. This removes conversion from salvation and can leave people stillborn and incomplete in their SALVATION experience in our churches. I hate the thought that people can think they are saved and are eternally OK in our churches every week when they come, but they are not.George Barna states that 84% of American adults self-identify as Christians and adds that his research clearly delineates different types of Christians: Revolutionaries (God is their priority in life), Evangelicals, nonevangelical born-again Christians (confessed their sins but have a spotty commitment to practice biblical faith), notional Christians (think of themselves as Christians but are not deeply spiritual and do not have a life-changing relationship with Christ. Their commitment is more to being religious than it is to being transformed by Christ and living differently because of that faith.Listen to these words of Jesus, Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name? And then will I declare to them, I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness. (Mt 7:21-24)Jesus warned people to enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few (Mt 7:13-14). There is a separation, an eternal demarcation, between those who are and are not in the kingdom. It is sobering to think that some people believe they are in the kingdom, saved, going to heaven, and connected to Jesus, but are truly not. R. C. Sprouls comments: The terrifying aspect of this is that these people are not on the fringes of the church. Rather, they are immersed in the life of the church, heavily involved in ministry, and perhaps have the reputation of being professing Christians. Yet for some of these so-called believers, Jesus doesnt know them and will banish them from His presence" (Sproul 2010, 5). People might look like they are saved on the outside but whatever is needed for Jesus to know them is still missing. Peter exhorts us to be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election (2 Pet 1:10); Paul commands us to Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?unless indeed you fail to meet the test! (2 Cor 13:5). Helping people to question, test, examine, and confirm their salvation can be a hard but necessary process on their spiritual journeyone we should not shy away from but take very seriously, as peoples eternal souls are at stake.In his sermon Marks of True Conversion, George Whitefield (1714-1770) expressed that peoples answers as to why they thought they were converted included: belonging to a Christian denomination, being baptized, being church members, being relatively good, honest and moral people, and taking the sacrament at least once or twice a year. Whitefield challenged these outward appearances stating, There are many likewise, who go on in a round of duties, a model of performances, that think they shall go to heaven; but if you examine them, though they have a Christ in their heads, they have no Christ in their hearts (Whitfield 1999). Jonathan Edwards was concerned with false conversions. He believed that some so-called conversions relied too much on the imagination. He saw how people who were under great convictions could have overheated imaginations but knew that Satan could also make impressions on the mind. In fact, Satan could counterfeit many religious experiences and appearances. John Wesley, in his 1741 sermon, The Almost Christian, testifies from his own experience:I did go thus far for many years, as many of this place can testify; using diligence to eschew all evil, and to have a conscience void of offence; redeeming the time; buying up every opportunity of doing all good to all men; constantly and carefully using all the public and all the private means of grace; endeavouring after a steady seriousness of behaviour, at all times, and in all places; and, God is my record, before whom I stand, doing all this in sincerity; having a real design to serve God; a hearty desire to do his will in all things; to please him who had called me to "fight the good fight," and to "lay hold of eternal life." Yet my own conscience beareth me witness in the Holy Ghost, that all this time I was butalmost a Christian. (Wesley 1909)Is this happening today? Could people who are committed to the church, to doing good works, to being honest and sincere, yet be only almost Christian and not completely or altogether Christian?David Wells believes when we extend a call in our church services to make Jesus as our Lord as separate from the call to accept Jesus as Savior we admit an extraordinary failure on our part. He believes the apostles did not distinguish between these two commitments because they were one in the same. Wells and several theologians are trying to fix what we have broken by reuniting these two experiences and insist Jesus is both Savior and Lord and conversion demands discipleship.Are we missing something? Something in what we have passed on to the next generation?Gordon Smith agrees with Wells in reuniting Jesus as both Savior and Lord and conversion with discipleship and sees this as the path to the transformation we seek. Smith believes we must rethink what it means to become a Christian believer and think theologically and critically about the meaning and character of conversion if the transformation we long for is going to happen (2001, 26). Smith identifi