Friday, March 04, 2005

Contrarian View From the Pew: Salvation Factors

It is impossible for any of us to know all of the factors or combination of factors that led to the point in time when we accepted Christ as our Lord and Savior. We all have our theories, though.

My family was very faithful in praying for my salvation, but all of their prayers took years before any of the results were apparent. I was also lucky enough to observe and experience a community of believers who loved and cared about each other in a noticeably different way than other communities I had observed. I can now look back and I can guess that observing their love for each other played a part in my salvation, but it was years after I observed their behavior, before I finally ended up on my knees.

In my early 30’s my life had unraveled to a point where I realized I had lost control. My craziness could have been God calling me back, or it could have been God punishing me for my sin, or it could have been God abandoning me; like I had abandoned him so many years before (and like my dear brother had been praying to happen to me). Sure, I had to make a decision to get down on my knees, but to be honest, I did it as a last resort, and I didn’t want to be on my knees even when I knew I was unable to solve the problems with my heart on my own. There never was a Christian, not a single one, whose witness effected my decision. If anything, individual Christians made it harder for me to get down on my knees and come to Christ.

Other believers have different experiences, different testimonies, and different theories about why they are saved. Some Christians don’t even remember a time in their life when they came to Christ. They just always believed. Other Christians had a good friend who exhibited a type of love that was contagious. Some Christians come to the Lord through an intellectual epiphany. Some believers insist they were called by God, while others insist they had to choose God.

Prayers seem to be a fairly consistent factor, but not every believer had someone praying for them. I would never say prayer doesn’t always work, but it does seem that there are people who die without accepting Christ who did have Christians praying for them. Personal relationships and testimonies sometimes work, but often don’t. Witnessing sometimes works, but it comes with side effects that drive some people further from God.

When I observe the community of believers, I see many different shapes, sizes, attitudes, and personalities. I love the diversity in Christ’s church. Some of us have a need for many relationships, while others of us can only tolerate a few good relationships. Some of us live mostly in our brain, while others of us live mostly in our heart. Some of us are artists, while others of us are technicians. And guess what; non-believers are just as diverse and just as different.

The Christian who is most able to form and maintain a relationship with a non-believer is often the Christian who is least able to explain the implications of the Gospel. The Christian who is most able to appeal to the mind of a non-believer is very often the person least capable of capturing the heart of the non-believer. There are some Christians who are capable of appealing to the hearts and to the minds of non-believers, but not many. Jesus never intended for evangelism to be an individual pursuit. Jesus established the Church for evangelism because evangelism is a team game. Isn’t it time to start building strong teams, and start doing what is best for the team? Isn’t it time we quit trying to do evangelism on our own unless we are capable of appealing to both the heart and the mind of the non-believer?


Hammertime said...

It looks like you will put more in answering my question, which I appreciate. I re-read all of your evangelism posts (unless there are more that are not on this page) and there is a postulate you put forth in this post that I didn't see any previous evidence expounded of:

"Jesus never intended for evangelism to be an individual pursuit."

I don't deny it, because I never looked for evidence one way or the other. What is your evidence for this postulate?

I am thoroughly engaged now! You are hereby blogrolled.

David M. Smith said...

"I don't deny it, because I never looked for evidence one way or the other. What is your evidence for this postulate?"Hammer,

I have been making my case for several weeks now. Did you mean, "Where in Scripture does it say evangelism is for the group and not the individual?"

I don't know of any verses that forbid individual evangelism. However, I also don't know of any verses that command individual evangelism. Perhaps, the burden of proof is on those who claim it is the responsibility of each and every believer to witness, who should provide Scriptural evidence as well as proof of results.

I have tried to make a case based on my observations over the years as well as what I read in Scripture. However, I don't like citing Scripture, because I do fear the wrath of God and I don't want to represent myself as a Bible teacher. I also wouldn't want to discourage anyone who is led by the Spirit from witnessing. I really just want to make the case that we can do better if we work together using our individual talents, not alone.

Buz said...

David ...

Your words seem to be at odds with themselves.

The examples which you give of those coming to Jesus without others wittnessing to the, seem to be of those who were familiar with the church and left it. Yet, for someone raised in the Church, while they may not have someone beating them with a bible at the moment of their salvation, they cannot have been raised in the Church without having seen the lives of the Christians around them. For what more powerful wittness could one ask?

You also claim that "Jesus never intended for evangelism to be an individual pursuit". While evangelizing the masses may take teams of people, conversely, evangelizing individuals takes individuals. The Billy Graham organization (TM) might be able to convert 10,000 people in L.A., I think if they showed up on your neighbor's doorstep, he would call the police ... while you could invite your neighbor over for a BBQ and probably present the Gospel in a simple, yet eloquent manner.

I was involved (in a very minor sense) in a Billy Graham crusade in the 1970s, and I will tell you that (at least at that time) they stressed three things. (1) The most fertile hearts are those who have been prayed for extensively. (2) The majority of people who come forward to make a profession of faith are those who have been invited by friends, not those who drop in because they just want to hear Billy. And (3), walking down that aisle seldom changes lives unless they are followed up with discipleship in local churches ... to that end, the BG org. spends six months before the crusade trying to get all the local churches to work together to provide home churches for those who walk down the aisles.

I have been following your search for a better way for quite a few months now. While I think you may propose some ideas which might work a bit better in our current society ... at least for cold contacts. I will be pleasantly surprized if you find something which will work more effectively and produce better enduring results than one person living a committed life and telling his friend what peace and joy Jesus has brought.


blue fish said...


I have to go with Buz and say that I'm a bit perplexed by some of the stuff you are saying here.

For example, you say:

"There never was a Christian, not a single one, whose witness effected my decision. If anything, individual Christians made it harder for me to get down on my knees and come to Christ."But... you also talk about how your family was faithful in praying for you... for several years. That is a strong witness. It is a demonstration of their love for you and their faith in God. I do not know your history, but I'd assume that you had some knowledge that they were praying for you and that they loved you. While you may have chosen to ignore it at the time, I find it difficult to believe that it played no part in your decision to turn to Christ.

Likewise, you say:

"a community of believers who loved and cared about each other in a noticeably different way..."

"I can now look back and I can guess that observing their love for each other played a part in my salvation"

I honestly have no idea how you can say that and then turn around and say their witness (through their actions) did not in some way affect you decision.

I am not intending you "pick bones" with you... and I apologize if I come off that way. I'm simply trying to follow you on this one.

On to other things.

From your depiction of your early 30's, it would seem that you weren't really interested in God and that you eventually "broke down" and turned to God because you were out of options. I'm curious, in retrospect, can you think of anything a believer or a group of believers could have done to change your attitude and draw you to Christ sooner? I am mostly curious because you are advocating a change... and I'm wondering if there is a change that would have ministered to you personally.

I also find it interesting that you discuss the diversity of the Church (and everyone else)... because I see that as one of the most compelling arguments for personal evangelism. I mean, who is going to be a better witness to an artist... than an artist?

Now when I say witness I do not mean simply handing out tracts and telling people they're going to burn in hell. I mean being a friend and a living example of what God can do in a person's life.

And sure, you can say that the church needs to build strong teams and I'd agree with you. But, I guess I see the game as requiring more of a "man to man" defense scenario.

Hammertime said...

Can we agree that the statement "Jesus never meant for evangelism to be an individual pursuit" should be changed to "Jesus never meant for evangelism to be exclusively an individual pursuit." I can concur with that, and I don't think it really changes the validity of the rest of your argument.

Teresa said...

Wow David, I saw some powerful testimony in there of community! I feel that there is never any ONE thing that brings any of us to the "on our knees point". As Paul says: one plants, one waters and one reaps. I can remember a few seeds that were planted for me along the way, but I'm sure I don't recall them all. Unfortunately we only seem to focus on the one who reaps--the end result. Everything takes time and it is ultimately a choice and a knee bent in humility.

David M. Smith said...


Thanks; you described in one paragraph a summary of many of my points. However, I still have more to say because opening our mouths is not the same as seeding; sometimes, opening our mouths is more like throwing salt on fertile soil. Stay tuned...