The Danger of False Conversions in Missions - Radical

The Danger of False Conversions in Missions

How do we approach evangelism while giving the Spirit its due role in our missions? Is there a right and wrong in regard to conversions? We have a responsibility as believers to reach the ends of the earth. Yet, our role is to preach the gospel freely and to encourage every good step of faith. We must not step into the Holy Spirit’s role within the conversion process. In this interview, Pastors David Platt and Mark Dever discuss the danger of false conversions and the role of the Spirit in missions.

  1. Evangelism and Prayer
  2. Trusting the Spirit
  3. False Advertising
  4. What Should We Do?

Unhealthy Practices Leading to False Conversion in Missions

What are some things that are healthy or unhealthy? When you hear people talk about, “Okay, once you pray this prayer, then you can be saved.” Is that a good thing or is that not a good thing? The way we’ve approached evangelism, particularly in … at least in my experience, my Southern Baptist picture, that’s a very common way to describe it. And so when people think, “All right, we’re going to go make disciples,” that means, “All right, we’re going to go get people to pray the prayer.” What’s healthy about that or not healthy about that?

Well, it’s basically not healthy, I think. Let me tell you some good things about it. I love the zeal for evangelism. I love the willingness to talk to another human and disagree with them and tell them they’re wrong, which these days, that’s so valuable. I love the theology behind it that understands that there’s a heaven and a hell, that everybody needs a savior, that Christ is their only hope, that they can’t work for their salvation. It’s a sheer gift of God by grace, apprehended by faith in Christ. I mean, there is so much that’s good about it that I’m almost loathe to throw stones. Having said that, I think the effect in the churches of poor evangelism has been so disastrous to our witness, and ironically, our evangelistic task.

Healthy Practices in Making Disciples

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at conventions where people are always praying the prayer to receive Christ. I’ve been in a taxi and a taxi cab driver, when I start talking about the Lord, he’ll joke with me that he’s already prayed to receive Christ five times that day or something. Christians think that non-Christians understand what’s going on there.

You can’t coerce somebody into truly being converted. You can share the gospel. You can love them. You can pray for them. You can urge them. They need to make the right decision. But I think if you go back to the great awakening, one of the high points of evangelism in our country’s history, you won’t find them praying the prayer, you’ll find them being exhorted to repent and believe. Then they don’t try to count Him up.

So with this, just on a practical level, with this waiter who you’re walking through the gospel of Mark with, does there come a point where you say, “Hey, I want to invite you to trust in Christ today,” or is this just a continual process that you’re walking him through, or how does-

Neither one of those exactly, because it’s exhorting him that he needs to repent and trust in Christ now.

Every time you’re talking?

Yes. But then I never tell him he’s done it. That’s really over for him. So the last time we met, he told me that he had done it. I’d given him some tracks to read, like Two Ways To Live. We talked about it, and he told me he’d done it, but he also said he wanted to come to church and make his commitment there, which I don’t think showed a lot of understanding of what it is, but that’s fine. I’m just going to keep telling the truth, keep answering his questions, keep trying to make sure he understands what repentance is, what repentance is not, what faith is, what faith is not, and just keep sowing in and praying, and the Lord will do what’s good and right.

Trust the Spirit to Lead Away from False Conversion in Missions

So, you trust the spirit in your whole process.

Yeah, I mean, the brother who’s serving out at nine marks as the head, Ryan Townsend. I first met Ryan when he was not a Christian. He was an undergrad at Georgetown, bartender, follower of Ayn Rand, rationalist. Great guy, not particularly moral, bright, friendly. We started studying through Mark’s Gospel together, the same thing. And when he finally came to Christ, he came really excited one morning, read me this very eloquent letter he’d written about his experience. I’m happy with him. We pray together. I take him over to the church office, gather the staff around, have him share what just happened. We all pray for him. Everyone else leaves the room. I close the door, just him and me.

I sit down and say, “Ryan, I don’t really know what’s happened to you. Oh, I hope you’re converted. I don’t know. This could just be a passing feeling of phase. Time will tell but I’m really encouraged. I’m excited. I’m going to pray with you that this is real, and I’m going to help you in every way I can.” And in the weeks coming up, he had some tough decisions to make. And I think if he had made some of those decisions wrong, I might’ve concluded he wasn’t a Christian, but as he kept showing fruit of the spirit, as he would make the right decisions, it was clear he’d been born again.

So, would you say often, we were quick to do the opposite of that, too quick to do that, maybe even dangerously quick to do the opposite, and assure someone of salvation based on profession at this moment in a way-

Well, we quote First John 1:9 and we tell them if they’ve confessed their sins, we just led them to do in a prayer, that God is faithful and just, He’ll forgive us our sins, cleanse us from all unrighteousness. And then we’ll say, “Did you confess your sins?” Well, they just followed us in that prayer, so they say, “Yes.” And then you say, “Do you believe God’s word? Do you believe His promises?” Well, I mean, “Yeah, I’m brand new at this, but yes I do.” I mean, you’re telling me, and I trust you in this. Okay, well then you’re a Christian and you shouldn’t doubt it.

That’s terrible. Because the real Christians are going to be real Christians anyway, without you doing that all over them. Let them go through the process to be baptized at your church. Let them go through whatever happens there. Let them join the church and start living as a Christian, that’ll tell out what needs to be told out.

But if you don’t do that, and if you just give them this quick blanket of assurance, well, that’s really more the Holy Spirit’s job than yours, I think. You start giving them that, I think you’ll get a lot of false converts. And the problem with a lot of false converts is it begins then to distort what the message is. What we’re supposed to be as Christians and as churches, we’re supposed to be billboards for the truth about God’s character and the truth of His gospel. But if we have people whose lives are no different than the non-Christians around them, then we’ve done a huge disservice.

It’s like confusing advertising. It’s like trying to sell lemonade as coke. It’s not Coke, but we just put a Coke label on it and we say, “This lemonade is Coke.” Well, then after a while, people when you want to introduce them to Coke will go like, “Oh, I’ve heard it tastes like all kinds of things. I’m not really interested in that.” So, it’s more destructive than we think to habitually to quickly offer assurance. That’s not really our role anyway. Our role is to preach the gospel freely, to encourage every good step of faith. Tell the brother and sister to get baptized, and then as they keep walking with Christ, that shows itself.

Mark Dever (PhD, Cambridge University) is a pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., the president of 9Marks, and a Council member of The Gospel Coalition. He is the author of many books, including Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. He and his wife, Connie, have two children.

David Platt serves as a pastor in metro Washington, D.C. He is the founder of Radical.

David received his Ph.D. from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and is the author of Don’t Hold Back, Radical, Follow MeCounter CultureSomething Needs to ChangeBefore You Vote, as well as the multiple volumes of the Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary series.

Along with his wife and children, he lives in the Washington, D.C. metro area.


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