Biblical Evangelism – Part 2

We established yesterday that nowhere does scripture teach the commonly held belief that every believer is required by the Lord to be engaged in proactively evangelising the lost. We saw that all believers are bound by scripture to be ready to give an account of their faith whenever called upon by unbelievers so to do, but the idea that all Christians ought to be proactively evangelising is, biblically speaking, a fallacy. But there is quite a bit more to be said about this, and some of it might just blow your socks off!

Part of the package of our commonly held obsession with all things evangelistic and missional is the accompanying idea that Christians should make a priority of praying for the salvation of the lost. Prepare, then, for a bombshell! In over 45 years of reading and studying the New Testament, and in some considerable detail too, I have yet to find a single verse that explicitly or categorically states that Christians ought to pray for the salvation of unbelievers. Paul exhorts Timothy that there ought to be prayer for governmental authority, and there’s little doubt that the leaders he had in mind would have been mostly unbelievers; but the object of the prayer he instructs Timothy to be praying was nothing to do with their personal salvation; indeed, it was nothing to do with them personally as individuals at all, but pertained solely to their political role in the maintenance and continuance of social harmony.

I Timothy 2:1-2 – “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

So where, I ask, are all the verses in the New Testament that teach that prayer for the salvation of the lost should be part of a believers prayer life? (Answers on a post card please!) Amazing, isn’t it? Yesterday we saw that there are no verses in the New Testament teaching that every Christian should proactively evangelise, and now this morning no verses instructing us to pray for the salvation of the lost! Wow! What on earth is going on? Well, I think it’s this:

If we claim that scripture, and scripture alone, is our authority in matters of faith and doctrine, and that the Bible is the inspired and infallible Word of God given precisely in order that our thinking becomes increasingly conformed to it, then we would expect as the years go by that, more and more, the way we think, and the the way we talk, would more and more comprehensively echo what we read in its pages. For example; although it is sadly changing now, throughout church history Christians have said an awful lot about the importance of celibacy outside of marriage and of the necessity for sexual fidelity within it. This doesn’t mean, of course, that Christians throughout church history have always been right about everything, sexual ethics included, but when we turn to the pages of the New Testament regarding that particular subject we do indeed see such thinking plastered all over its pages. Wherever you are in your Bible reading you will never have to read much further in the New Testament before you get to clear and categoric teaching regarding the command of celibacy outside of marriage and sexual fidelity within it. So what I am saying is that should we find ourselves thinking in particular ways about particular things, but then discover that such ideas and/or emphases are not actually present in the pages of scripture, then it should alert us to the fact that something is clearly wrong.

And I have to tell you that wherever you currently are in your reading of the New Testament, not only would you have to read an awful lot further through its pages in order to find instruction and exhortation that all believers are to proactively evangelise and to pray for the salvation of the lost, you will actually not get to any such verses at all no matter how far you read on or how many times you then re-read it! Such statements, teachings and instructions are simply not there! However incredible this seems to us, they don’t actually exist! So when we find ourselves putting great emphasis on things concerning which scripture is virtually silent, then something is obviously very, very wrong. And I gotta tell you, it isn’t the New Testament!

But perhaps I ought to answer a question here that you might be asking yourself, and it’s simply this: Do I ever pray for people’s salvation? And the answer is, “Yes! I most certainly do! Indeed, I pray on a regular basis for the salvation of quite a few folk the Lord has put on my heart, principally, but not exclusively, my remaining unsaved relatives!” But why, I hear you ask? Why would I do that in the light of what I have just written? Well, I do it because there are verses in the Bible that exhort me to make my requests made known to God, and which therefore suggest that I should be imploring him concerning the desires of my heart. Therefore, because I obviously want these folk to be saved, and because, just as I tell Belinda everything (and Bethany most things), I will obviously also tell my Lord and Saviour of my desire for the salvation of those folk too!

But of course this doesn’t change the fact that the completely unscriptural idea that people’s eternal salvation somehow depends on Christians praying for them still needs to be countered. Think about it: If someone’s salvation is a matter of divine election, then praying for them to be saved isn’t going to change anything regarding whether God has elected them or not! Conversely, if salvation is based not on God’s choice as to whether or not someone is saved, but rather on the free-will choice of the individual, then what on earth is prayer for their salvation going to achieve? Answer: Absolutely nothing! If you believe your prayer effects a change of their mind regarding salvation, then that is just another way of saying you don’t believe they have free-will; yet scripture makes clear that God holds people both responsible and accountable for their behaviour. So actually, whether you are in the predestination/election camp or the free will camp, neither allow for the assertion that prayer for someone’s salvation is either necessary or effectual! Whether the driving force in salvation is God’s will or the sinners will, any idea that prayer could change either cancels out any idea of free volition, whether divine or human! Even the Lord can’t make a four-sided triangle, or do anything whereby the concept is itself anti-rational! So too with any notion of praying for people’s salvation. Crazy, eh?

So however bewildering this might be – and it sure bewilders me – we must nevertheless still be aware of it! But hey, did we ever think but for one moment that the truth of the Lord of Glory wouldn’t utterly bewilder us? And often too! Believing things the Bible doesn’t teach won’t help us any more than not believing things that it does! If it’s the truth which sets us free, and it most certainly is because that’s what Jesus said, then believing anything which isn’t true will, conversely, land us up in bondage in some way.

We will continue other aspects of this tomorrow, so come back then! Go on, I dare you!

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Deformed Theology

Bible

Fundamental to following Jesus is the understanding that He is our final authority in all matters. However, because scripture is the only ultimate way we can know what He wants, then scripture also becomes our final authority in all matters. Because subjective revelation/personal conviction can be Satan deceiving us, or us deceiving ourselves, conformity to scripture is the only test we have in order to establish whether or not something could be the Holy Spirit leading us. Any attempt to separate the authority of the Lord personally from His written Word is therefore pure deception. The senior officer of a battalion of soldiers who receives his written orders from Headquarters and then, instead of just getting on with obeying what they say, gets into a debate with himself as to whether the Commanding Officer back at HQ is his authority or the written orders he has sent out, and whether he might therefore be able to in some way go against those orders whilst still claiming that he is acting under the Commanding Officer’s authority, is not worth the uniform he’s wearing. The authority of the Commanding Officer and the authority of the written orders he sends out are, quite simply, one and the same thing.

Our Authority…

Therefore, if the Lord is our ultimate and final authority, which He is, and if He has given us His written Word in the scriptures, which He has, then anyone who thinks they can be truly under His authority whilst being in any kind of non-conformity to those same scriptures is kidding themselves. The scriptures are our written orders sent us by our Commanding Officer, and His authority and their authority are one and the same thing. Indeed, any attempt to make a distinction between them could only ever be for the reason of smuggling something into our belief system or practise that is contrary to scripture, but to which we want to give place.

…Not Our Authority…

Here’s the point: If scripture, being the written orders of our divine Commander-In-Chief, is our final authority…then absolutely nothing else is!!! Not theologians, not established doctrine, not statements of faith, not Christian books, not Pastors, Priests or Ministers, not John Calvin, not Jacob Arminius, not traditional evangelical cultural practise, not me (Aw, shucks!!! That’s too bad!!!), not anyone or anything, except the scripture itself.

…and Systematic Theology…

So let me make absolutely clear what this means regarding so-called systematic theologies: unless such are deemed to be merely a teaching aid, and nothing more, systematic theologies, of whatever doctrinal bent, are actually deceptive. And of course the reason is that it’s just so darned easy to end up reading scripture through the lens of a doctrinal system rather than the other way round. Or to put it another way, instead of judging one’s thoughts, understandings and doctrinal belief system (which is what a systematic theology is) by scripture, one actually ends up judging scripture according to one’s own doctrinal presuppositions and dogma. And of course one’s final authority then is not the Lord Jesus through His Word, but rather whatever systematic theology/doctrinal system one happens to subscribe to, and therefore merely the teachings and reasonings of whichever theologians came up with it.

The Big Change…

I reached a point many years ago when I realised that in order to explain what i thought certain verses in the Bible meant I was having to explain away certain other verses. I concluded that this had to be wrong, and so decided to stop doing it and to have a comprehensive biblical re-think. As a result I embraced the wonderful freedom of no longer needing to think that I ought to understand everything in the Bible, or that I could have the Lord God and His truth nicely wrapped up in in a little box of some pre-digested systematic theology. (Not that I had ever subscribed to any particular one!) Indeed, I actually found rest and security in the Lord in even the most inscrutable biblical mysteries and paradoxes. (It is not, for example, in any way irrational to believe, at one and the same time, in election and predestination as well as human responsibility. Neither is it to embrace the utterly perplexing mystery and paradox that there is but one God, yet Who exists in three separate Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit! Man, go figure that one!!!)

The Resolution…

As long as we are truly willing to surrender, and to be in obedience to, that which can be truly apprehended and understood in scripture, then we needn’t be under any compulsion to kid ourselves into pretending that we have unfathomable mysteries in God’s Word that are completely beyond us all figured out and nicely sown up. If, in your thinking, the Lord God Almighty is not exponentially and massively bigger and more mysterious and inscrutable than any doctrinal statement you may subscribe to concerning Him, then there is something profoundly wrong with your understanding of the concept of both the Divine and the Infinite.

The trouble, sadly, with systematic theology is its enduring tendency to not let what the Bible teaches stand in the way of a good doctrine.

May the Lord preserve us from the 21st Century Deformers!