Not long ago, a friend sent me a private message via Facebook. In it he described an all-too-common scenario, which he followed with an all-too-common question. Yet, my friend set up and asked the question in such a way that I could almost sense desperation in his words. At the very least, he was discouraged. So, I asked his permission to share his note and question with you, in order to attempt to write an encouraging article for my friend and others of you who might face the same emotional and spiritual struggle. In this article I will address how Christians should respond and behave when the reality of American Evangelicalism’s false conversion rate gets overwhelming.
A Facebook Message from a Friend
Here’s the message I received from my friend:
“I have a question that I thought might be good to ask you. Recently on a visit to a Christian music festival, I experienced something that you might call ‘American Evangelicalism.’
“The scenario: A preacher giving a passionate talk. At the end during his salvation call he calls people to basically do things such as ‘Come to Jesus to have your broken heart healed’ or ‘Say yes to Jesus who can take your broken life, or the life you think is a turd (he was using emojis) and make you whole.’
“Then he had the people who responded (who were mostly youth) run to the prayer tent. There appeared to be a few hundred. Of course the crowd cheered and I don’t deny it brought a tear to my eye because I’m not used to seeing responses like that. I try to give the benefit of the doubt that there may be some actual conversions happening.
After contemplating the scenario though, I realized that the evangelism, or sharing of the gospel / altar car was a perfect false convert making storm of badness.
“There was no talk about who God was or who we are. No discussion about sin, God’s wrath, and where sin will lead us. Of course, no Law at all, and no coverage of the basic facts of the Gospel, such as: Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, and what that entailed. The Holy Spirit is to convict of sin, righteousness and judgement, and of course there was no talk of that. Nothing about repentance. No talk to help them understand their personal depravity and sin against a holy God, or about what it could mean to take up your cross and follow Him.
“As an adult, with an ear to evangelism, I listened carefully and realized that it really wasn’t clear what the preacher was calling a person to do, aside from giving a vague, positive response to Jesus. I imagine a young person would have even less of an idea, and could easily have been swept up in both the emotion and the peer pressure.
To be fair, there were many counsellors there to talk with and pray with them, and I HOPE that they were able to really help them understand what they were doing.
“This incident is surrounded by other encounters I’ve witnessed recently via social media and other places of shallow, indeed, wrong presentations of, and responses to, the gospel. Ex: the little kid ‘asked Jesus into his heart’ among others. More can be clarified here, but you get the picture.
“Basically it stresses me out as I see ‘popular’ Christianity as a false convert making machine.
“My question is: as you witness this across your country, and see it everywhere you turn, how do you not get depressed?
“Ten years ago, our eyes were opened when we found the Way of the Master, Living Waters, etc. Since then we (my wife and I) have striven to ‘sharpen’ our evangelistic pencils to handle the gospel with precision and present it biblically (Law and Gospel).
“We have seen advances in understanding here and there, for sure. We do notice more and more people correctly talking about repentance and faith. But there is no doubt that generally it seems like we are swimming upstream in a never-ending river of shallow, imprecise, no-Law-before-gospel, poor gospel presentations.
“I guess the answer is to be the best stewards we can with the faith and knowledge the Lord has given us. But I thought I’d toss the question your way.”
My Friend Knew I Would Understand
I read my friend’s message a few times. Each time I was brought closer to tears. I was moved by my friend’s heart for the lost. His sorrow over the sad state of American Evangelicalism and its potentially devastatingly high false conversion rate moved me as well. I was touched that he would come to me with his question. I was humbled that my friend thought I would understand.
American Evangelicalism is awash with unbiblical teaching. The result: an untold number of people filling pews in American Evangelical churches who think they are are saved when they are yet unconverted. How do I know this?
Just the other night, while ministering with my church family outside the Mississippi Valley Fair, I thought a professing Christian was going to punch my lights out. I offered him a gospel tract. He angrily said, “I don’t need that!”
“Everyone needs the gospel, sir. You likely just don’t want it.” I replied.
With a scowl on his face and clenched fists, he yelled, “I’ve got Jesus! I don’t need that piece of paper!”
“Then, why don’t you give it to someone who needs it, sir?” I asked.
“Why would I do that?” He screamed, as he stormed away.
False Converts: The Rule, not the Exception
I would like to say that the above example is an exception and not the rule. I would like to say that the majority of people I meet on the streets who profess to be Christians are soundly saved. But I can’t say that. In fact, it is so rare for me to meet someone I believe to be a brother or sister in Christ that when someone says, “Oh, I’m already a Christian,” I translate that to mean: “Please share the gospel with me.”
Still not convinced?
How about the many young women who come to abortuaries saying, “God will forgive me. I asked Jesus into my heart already.”
Or how about the myriad young people who have approached me on college campuses while I’ve been preaching to admonish me with words like: “You’re not loving. You’re pushing people away from Jesus. This will never work. You need to develop relationships with people. Stop shoving Jesus down people’s throats.” They are living testimonies of the words of Jesus:
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours” (John 15:18-20).
I believe the Body of Christ is much smaller than any of us Christians realize.
The Way is Narrow that Leads to Life
There is much more to my observations (which some might dismiss as subjective) and to my assertion that the Body of Christ is smaller than many people think. I believe God’s Word supports this sad reality. It comes down to two words: “many” and “few.”
“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'” (Matthew 7:21-23).
Not only does Jesus make it abundantly clear that more people will spend eternity in hell than will spend eternity in heaven, but the specific people group to which He refers in this passage are what today we would call “churched” people.
So many people have prayed a prayer and asked Jesus into their hearts, and have never been converted.
So many people have been manipulated to raise a hand or walk down an aisle, and have never been converted.
So many people have accepted baseless offers of health, wealth, and prosperity, and have never been converted.
So many people have believed false miracles that are little more than carny tricks, and have never been converted.
So many people have been lied to and told they are filled with the Holy Spirit, and have never been converted.
So many people have believed a false social gospel, and have never been converted.
So many people think they’re saved, think they know Jesus, when He doesn’t know them. So many people will hear Jesus say, “Depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”
So many people…..
By now you might be thinking, “Umm. Where’s the encouragement you mentioned in the beginning of the article? You’re not encouraging me. I mean, you’re really not encouraging me.”
Hang in there.
I Know the Feeling
Much of what I’ve written thus far has been an effort to tell my friend and the rest of you reading this that I know the feeling. I’m very thankful to the Lord that my friend believed he could turn to me for encouragement.
American Evangelicalism, as a religious system, is NOT Christian. Certainly there are genuine Christians and true churches that are categorized as American Evangelical; there’s no denying that. However, they are the people on the narrow path–a narrow path, which meanders through a very wide expanse of rocky and thorny soil. My sentiments regarding American Evangelicalism have not changed, but my attitude has. American Evangelicalism, which these days is going from bad to worse, simply doesn’t make me angry anymore. It doesn’t depress me anymore.
So, back to my friend’s question:
“My question is: as you witness this across your country, and see it everywhere you turn, how do you not get depressed?”
To my friend, and any other Christian who can relate: there are things you can do to fight off the American Evangelism false conversion blues. Here are three, of many: believe in God’s faithfulness; belong, truly, to a church; bring the gospel to false converts.
Believe in God’s Faithfulness
My pastor, Mike Reid, says the following when someone asks him how he’s doing: “Fabulous, because all of God’s promises are true!” It’s not a cliche. He means it. He believes it.
“For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory” (2 Corinthians 1:20).
Believing God’s promises, believing in His faithfulness and being discouraged or depressed are mutually exclusive activities. A great way to combat thoughts about the unfaithfulness of false converts and church’s from which Christ has removed His lampstand (Revelation 2:5) is to set your mind upon the faithfulness of God (see Colossians 3:2; 2 Timothy 2:13).
Let the Word of God minister to your hearts!
“Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:5-9).
Dear friends, focus on the things above. Focus on that which is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy! Do this and you won’t have time to be depressed over the professing Christian world’s vast and growing false conversion rate.
Remember: no matter how unfaithful people are (including ourselves), God is always faithful. Always!
“If we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).
Brothers and sisters: the battle for the mind begins in the mind. So that is where you must wage war against depressive and anxious thoughts about the unfaithfulness of professing Christians and the weak or apostate churches that warehouse them.
“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete” (2 Corinthians 10:4-6).
Seek the Holy Spirit’s help in the renewal of your mind so that you can rightly discern the will of God, and focus on that which is good, acceptable, and perfect.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).
Take God at His Word, Christian! Believe Him!
Secondly: belong, in every true sense of the word, to a local assembly of believers.
Truly Belong to a Church
I cannot emphasize this enough. In the battle against depressive and anxious thoughts regarding false Christians and churches, it is imperative you belong to a local assembly of believers. And by “belonging” I mean much more than simply being listed on the membership rolls. Belonging to a church means engaging (or in some cases, not engaging) in the “one anothers” of Scripture.
I am not at all familiar with the author (so this is not an endorsement). Pastor Andrew Mason compiled the following list of 59 “one another” statements in the New Testament:
1. “…Be at peace with each other.” (Mark 9:50)
2. “…Wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14)
3. “…Love one another…” (John 13:34)
4. “…Love one another…” (John 13:34)
5. “…Love one another…” (John 13:35)
6. “…Love one another…” (John 15:12)
7. “…Love one another” (John 15:17)
8. “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love…” (Romans 12:10)
9. “…Honor one another above yourselves. (Romans 12:10)
10. “Live in harmony with one another…” (Romans 12:16)
11. “…Love one another…” (Romans 13:8)
12. “…Stop passing judgment on one another.” (Romans 14:13)
13. “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you…” (Romans 15:7)
14. “…Instruct one another.” (Romans 15:14)
15. “Greet one another with a holy kiss…” (Romans 16:16)
16. “…When you come together to eat, wait for each other.” (I Cor. 11:33)
17. “…Have equal concern for each other.” (I Corinthians 12:25)
18. “…Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (I Corinthians 16:20)
19. “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (II Corinthians 13:12)
20. “…Serve one another in love.” (Galatians 5:13)
21. “If you keep on biting and devouring each other…you will be destroyed by each other.” (Galatians 5:15)
22. “Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” (Galatians 5:26)
23. “Carry each other’s burdens…” (Galatians 6:2)
24. “…Be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2)
25. “Be kind and compassionate to one another…” (Ephesians 4:32)
26. “…Forgiving each other…” (Ephesians 4:32)
27. “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” (Ephesians 5:19)
28. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21)
29. “…In humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)
30. “Do not lie to each other…” (Colossians 3:9)
31. “Bear with each other…” (Colossians 3:13)
32. “…Forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.” (Colossians 3:13)
33. “Teach…[one another]” (Colossians 3:16)
34. “…Admonish one another (Colossians 3:16)
35. “…Make your love increase and overflow for each other.” (I Thessalonians 3:12)
36. “…Love each other.” (I Thessalonians 4:9)
37. “…Encourage each other…”(I Thessalonians 4:18)
38. “…Encourage each other…” I Thessalonians 5:11)
39. “…Build each other up…” (I Thessalonians 5:11)
40. “Encourage one another daily…” (Hebrews 3:13)
41. “…Spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24)
42. “…Encourage one another.” (Hebrews 10:25)
43. “…Do not slander one another.” (James 4:11)
44. “Don’t grumble against each other…” (James 5:9)
45. “Confess your sins to each other…” (James 5:16)
46. “…Pray for each other.” (James 5:16)
47. “…Love one another deeply, from the heart.” (I Peter 3:8)
48. “…Live in harmony with one another…” (I Peter 3:8)
49. “…Love each other deeply…” (I Peter 4:8)
50. “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (I Peter 4:9)
51. “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others…” (I Peter 4:10)
52. “…Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another…” (I Peter 5:5)
53. “Greet one another with a kiss of love.” (I Peter 5:14)
54. “…Love one another.” (I John 3:11)
55. “…Love one another.” (I John 3:23)
56. “…Love one another.” (I John 4:7)
57. “…Love one another.” (I John 4:11)
58. “…Love one another.” (I John 4:12)
59. “…Love one another.” (II John 5)
Every Christian needs the support and accountability of a biblically constituted (Acts 6:1-6; Acts 14:23; Acts 20:17-35; Titus 1:5; etc.), local assembly of believers (Acts 2:42-47). Christian Nomadism is a contradiction in terms.
One of the best ways to fight off negatively and depressively dwelling on the reality of false converts and the churches that produce them is to dwell–authentically, deeply, meaningfully, a sacrificially–in unity with a local assembly of believers. Stop dwelling on those who pretend to be Christians. Stop dwelling on bad churches and rejoice in the reality that you are a member of a local assembly where genuine Christians worship Christ and love one another.
If you are not a member of a biblical church, please contact me ([email protected]) and I will do whatever I can to help you find one.
I cannot thank the Lord enough for the leadership and membership of my church family. He has used my local church to do a sanctifying work in my life in this area and many others.
Yes, stop dwelling on false converts. However, this is not to say you shouldn’t think about them at all. In fact, you must do more than think about them. You must bring the gospel to them.
Bring the Gospel to False Converts
It’s difficult to love false converts when you’re frustrated with them. Sadly, this is how many Christians feel about them. In fact, back in the early days of the relatively recent explosion of biblical street evangelism, an insidious term was coined by and for Christians who were frustrated with false converts and the genuine converts who had no interest in engaging in evangelism. It was called “Club Frustration.”
A great and biblical tool for battling depression in all its forms and all its causes is to simply be other-minded.
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:3-5).
“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).
“But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. 18 They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” 19 It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. 20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. 22 And have mercy on those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (Jude 1:17-23).
The best way to defeat the depressive feelings that can come with the frustration over American Evangelicalism’s high false conversion rate is to love false converts with the gospel!
Persevere! Don’t quit!
Building on Ray Comfort’s “Three Minutes to Live” technique, I’ve developed a technique I have used dozens if not hundreds of times when engaging professing Christians in gospel conversations. Here, I present it in three short videos:
Step 1 – Listen
Step 2 – Proclaim
Step 3 – Explain
Using this methodology has resulted in many fruitful conversations. Most people with whom I have employed this methodology have been given a moment of pause and a reason to consider the authenticity of their faith in Christ (2 Corinthians 13:5). Some have been genuine believers who were spiritually raised on cotton candy Christianity and all-milk-no-meat teaching, and simply were too spiritually immature to articulate their faith in Christ (Hebrews 5:13). A few came to realize they were not saved and came to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ (Jude 1:22-23).
To my friend who asked me the question: I do hope this encourages you, brother. I also hope the rest of you who have read this article are encouraged.
Remember: God is sovereign (Job 38:1-42:6; 1 Timothy 6:15).
Remember: it is God who causes a person to be born-again (1 Peter 1:3).
Remember: salvation belongs to the Lord (Jonah 2:9).
Remember: your responsibility is to love God and love people (Matthew 22:34-40).
Dwell on these truths. Don’t trust your emotions; trust God (Proverbs 3:5-8). Your emotions are subjective. God is true (Romans 3:4).
Don’t be depressed by the false conversion rate in American Evangelicalism. Bring the gospel to false converts. God may just use you to reduce the rate of false conversion.