“Reimagining” Conversion

by Pastor Larry DeBruyn for Emergent Church, Salvation

From Evangelical Revivalism to Emerging Ecumenicalism

But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. Paul, Galatians 1:8-9, KJV

Introduction
In that an aggregate of scholars, leaders and authors of the emerging church movement have been and are continuing to redefine Protestant and evangelical teaching regarding salvation (i.e., the atonement, justification and reconciliation), it should come as no surprise that the very meaning of conversion is now being re-envisioned or re-imagined. As an article recently posted on the Christianity Today website says,

It is not an overstatement to say that evangelicals are experiencing a “sea change”—a paradigm shift—in their understanding of conversion and redemption, a shift that includes the way in which they think about the salvation of God, the nature and mission of the church, and the character of religious experience. Although there is no one word to capture where evangelicals are going in this regard, there is a word that captures what they are leaving behind: revivalism. [1]

At the outset let it be stated that, as it became institutionalized in the American evangelical subculture during the 20th century, evangelical revivalism—defined as the “accept-Jesus” invitational system which includes such methods as altar calls involving raising a hand and walking an aisle, or accepting spiritual laws and then praying a “receive-Jesus” prayer—is not without problems when subjected the biblical template of conversion. [2] Over the last few decades revivalism has been criticized, even by “in house” evangelicals. [3] As critics of the revivalistic system point out, in the aftermath of such point-in-time conversions, long term spiritual fruit has often not been evident, despite concerted efforts at follow-up and discipleship.

But now within evangelicalism a new paradigm of conversion is emerging, a paradigm that places emphasis on baptism, spiritual formation, community and kingdom building on earth. As opposed to the old revivalism with its emphasis on becoming a Christian, the new paradigm of conversion emphasizes being a Christian (To this distinction, the New Testament’s emphasis upon both becoming and being a Christian can be noted, the emphasis upon the one not to exclude the other; See John 3:3, 7; Galatians 5:22-24; James 2:17; 1 John 3:17.).

To understand this “sea change” regarding the old revivalistic paradigm of conversion, the emerging church’s emphasis appears to be upon togetherness, discipleship and kingdom. As advocates express it, “Belong, then believe.” Or as they assess the real membership of the church, “Most are in, and few (if any) are out.” Thus in their eyes, the church ought to be, as much as possible, one ecumenical community—“Kumbaya, my Lord, Kumbaya!”

But hindrances exist to the realization of community, hindrances involving essential biblical and Protestant teachings (Remember, the heart of the word Protestant is the word “protest.”). So in order to induce feelings of “togetherness,” there’s a movement adrift to deconstruct and then redefine those essential Reformation teachings that pose barriers to building community. In order to reach a consensus of faith which most, if not all Christians, can agree on, core beliefs concerning the Cross must be altered. Key teachings (i.e., doctrines which are to be believed) must be re-imagined or re-envisioned to fit a “community” template, especially as they regard the atonement, justification, reconciliation and finally, the very meaning of conversion itself. Amidst the “sea change” engulfing evangelicalism, we now give attention to the re-envisioning that is going on with these crucial doctrines in order to make them fit a togetherness template.
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The Altar Call

by Pastor Larry DeBruyn for Salvation

Twelve Questions.

Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” Paul, Galatians 2:16, KJV

In America over the last two centuries, no event has become more associated with the evangelical-fundamentalist movement than the altar call. In evangelistic campaigns, revival crusades, and many church services, the altar call is synonymous with winning souls to Jesus Christ, or calling backslidden believers to repent and return to the Lord.

Typically, at the end of an evangelistic or church service, the invitation is extended for those in the audience to physically rise up out of their seat, step out into the aisle, and walk forward to a “metaphorical altar” located at the front of a church or stadium. As one altar call was stated:

Don’t let distance keep you from Christ. Christ went to the Cross because he loved you. Certainly you can come these few steps. Come right now.[1]

At a metaphorical altar located at the front of the meeting place, people supposedly become saved. Other reasons for extending the altar call include that persons might rededicate their lives to Jesus after having backslidden into sin, seek certain spiritual gifts or blessings, or perhaps, dedicate their lives to vocational Christian ministry. Because of the publicity that altar calls receive via televised evangelistic crusades, and their use in many local churches, no public rite of passage to salvation, or rededication, is viewed as important as the altar call.

But the greater question surrounding this rite of passage is whether, or not, it accords with the nature of faith as the New Testament defines it. We need to examine “the altar call” in light of the Bible’s description of faith, and what it means to be justified by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). Does the altar call help someone to get saved? Or possibly, could this rite of Christian passage actually hinder the salvation of many?
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God’s Sovereign Grace

by Pastor Larry DeBruyn for Salvation

The impossibility of spiritual life apart from God’s work: a meditation on Ephesians 2:1-10.

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9, NASB 

Many Christians think that salvation is not so much a gift to be received, as a destiny to be earned. Their concept of salvation is that God will pay them in eternity for what they accomplished in time. To them, salvation is achieved, not received. The tragedy of it is that salvation will never come to them by such an arrangement. As the Apostle wrote, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace” (Romans 11:6). Charles Spurgeon summarized the issue well when he said, “One might better try to sail the Atlantic in a paper boat than to get to heaven in good works.”


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What Is Faith?

by Pastor Larry DeBruyn for Salvation

A Case Study of Rahab the Harlot.

Just believe! Such faith, exhibited by many within the pan-evangelical church of, runs a severe risk of being misplaced. For many, faith has become “faith in feelings.” As a friend of mine used to say, Christians these days get all excited over excitements. But if individual and inner emotions become the standard of faith, then such faith finds its origin within one’s feelings, and that is a miserable place for faith to reside. In such a place, faith may be “personal,” but it’s no more than that. Theologians call this fideism, or faith in faith apart from any rational or vilitional considerations. Excess emphasis on emotionalism reduces faith to romanticism, and as such, enhancement of personal faith could be stimulated by reading feel-good books, watching feel-good movies, or listening to feel-good songs. All of this and more can extol the magic of believing.

Have you ever listened to the song, “I Believe!”? The lyrics read: “I believe for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows.” [1] While the lyrics sound upbeat and positive–words that ooze with a message of positivity and possibility–they are essentially false. One drop of rain does not produce an equivalent flower. Flower lovers may wish it to be were so, but it’s not. This is one example of romantic but vacuous faith. Ultimately, faith will rise no higher than the object into which it is placed. If it originates and resides within one’s soul experiences, then that’s where it will remain until disillusionment might extinguish it. But biblical faith demands a subject who believes within, and an object who is believed without. For example, we turn to Rahab the Harlot.


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The Propitiation of the Christ

by Pastor Larry DeBruyn for Salvation

"For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past . . ."  Romans 3:23-25a

The church, as dictated by the culture’s prevailing mood, tends to ignore what theologians have labeled, “the dark side of God.” Jonathan Edward’s sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God probably would not fly amongst contemporary Christians, who, in their ignorance, connect their concept of God only to the yellow circle of God’s smiling face. Because God is always happy, or so it is presumed, His greatest desire is for us to be happy too! Thus any contemplation about God’s dark side has been dismissed from the collective psyche of many modern Christians.

Scripture records persons hiding from God’s wrath (Revelation 6:16-17). Hiding from wrath is instinctive to us. After all, who of us relished a spanking when we were kids? Yet the ominous personal side of God’s wrath life remains, for it has been observed that Scripture has more to say about God’s anger than it does about His love. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men,” wrote the Apostle Paul (Romans 1:18).


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On Double Predestination

by Pastor Larry DeBruyn for Salvation

What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?”  Romans 9:22 

Hyper-Calvinism asserts that God predestined the non-elect to go to hell. In his Institutes of the Christian Religion John Calvin called it reprobation and wrote that, “there could be no election without its opposite, reprobation.” He then continued: “Those, therefore, whom God passes by He reprobates . . . because He is pleased to exclude them from the inheritance which He predestines to his children.”[1]

Double-predestination as it is also known, claims to find support in Romans chapter 9, especially verse 22 which reads: “What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?” (Romans 9:22, NASB).


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