Recently the younger members of our church at Ascot attended Newday, a Christian festival held in the Midlands area of the United Kingdom. Many hundreds of young people attend annually from all over the nation, where they set up camp to listen to speakers deliver God's word to a large young audience inside a large marquee.
Although not having attended this event myself, what I know of it, Newday to me is a reminiscence of former Christian festivals I attended in the past, Spring Harvest in Minehead, Somerset and Stoneleigh, near the city of Coventry. Both of these festivals involve deliverance of God's word in sermons designed to equip us in our own churches and in particularly as lights to shine in a sinning world.
One of the church's elders and also a personal friend of mine, Dave Rogers, announced from the front that at this year's Newday, up to 300 young people were saved, that is to say, repented and trusted in Jesus Christ to redeem them, as a result of regeneration of the inner man, to be adopted into God's family through faith.
With news like this, I should have shot up from my seat and shout with joy, "Yippee!" 300 more souls redeemed and destined for Heaven is fantastic news! There is a lot to praise and glorify God for. But instead I remained in my seat and quietly absorbed the news. Not because I am British, and as one is aware, emotions are things we British don't share. No. Rather I accepted the news with a dose of caution. And not because I have a pessimistic tendency, but rather I'm aware of the four kinds of hearts the seed of the Word of God can fall on.
It is found in Matthew 13:1-23. Here we read that Jesus Christ himself gave an illustration of four kinds of hearers who receive a divine message. The first group are those whose hearts are so hard that they are likened to a footpath, on which the surface had been compressed solid my the weight of many feet which trod upon it. Any seed which falls on the path tend to remain on the surface and becomes as vulnerable bird food. I doubt very much that any of the 300 saved at Newday were of this category.
But there was a high possibility of the three other categories who were there and believed the message. Of these one group represented the rocky ground. They are the ones that has a thin layer of soil. When the seeds fall, they remain until they germinate, but did not grow beyond the next day of hot sunshine when the heat scorched the young saplings to non-existence.
Then there is another group who also heard the word and believed. But they were attached to the world, not only in wealth and possessions but love for the culture too. They are represented by plants which choke out the space for the divine seedlings to grow.
I have heard sermons, either on tape or over the Internet, about these two groups. All agree that the first group, the footpath, were those who resisted then forgotten the message, therefore they cannot be saved. Also all agreed that the fourth group, the field of good soil on to where the seed was sown, produced the right sort of crops, represented truly saved people.
But disagreement arose about the other two, the rocky soil and the worldly soil. On the Internet I listened to a sermon delivered at the Calvary Community Church in California, insisting that these two groups - the rocky soil and the worldly soil were not truly saved people. Their sermon can be heard if one log in to the Living Waters website. On the other hand, some years ago I also listened to a taped message dealing with the reasons why these intermittent two groups were saved after all.
According to the taped message, they were saved because they believed the word of God. They based the assumption to what Jesus Christ himself said on occasion, that who ever hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life and will not be condemned, but has passed from death into life (John 5:24). And not forgetting the more famed John 3:16 - For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that who ever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
These and other similar verses of Scripture were the basis of the message on why the rocky ground and the worldly ground were still saved. They were saved according to the promise made by Jesus himself, that is we are saved by hearing and believing.
But others, such as the speaker at the Calvary Community Church, disagree. He insisted that these two groups were not true believers. How come? They believed the word, didn't they? Yes they did. But their belief were only intellectual. "Jesus Christ? Yes, he was a great teacher, and taught some great things which all makes sense, just as it makes sense to say that a cloudless sky is blue." Full stop.
And it's here that I tend to agree with the Calvary Community Church. There is a difference between intellectual belief and trusting. Like believing that a chair is made for sitting on and actually sitting on the chair. I think here lies the heart of the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism on the subject of eternal security of the believer. This debate goes on on why the Scriptures seem to say at some points that a saved person cannot be lost while at other places it seems to say a person who has believed can still be lost.
Before I go any further, here I must stress that it is not up to me to say whether a believer is a true one or not. That only God can decide. But sooner or later the false convert will eventually reveal his true nature.
False convert? This phrase was used during the 19th Century Awakening, particularly in America. It is used at the Calvary Church today. It means that one's professed faith in Christ is not genuine. And sooner or later this will show. There are several types of false converts. One kind of emphasised by Charles G. Finney, the 19th Century New York evangelist.
Although I don't agree with Finney's Pelagian view of theology (the theory that the sinner can be saved by changing his own heart), he did produce some fine definitions of one kind of false convert. According to Finney, such a person does all the right things, such as attending church, prayer meetings, Bible study, serving others - out of fear of Hell and his attempt to prop up his hope for Heaven. Finney then quotes an example written by someone who debated against infidelity, "because (ignoring it) may ruin all my hopes for eternity." Finney then describes a test, to determine the genuineness of one's faith. The true Christian will always rejoice at the news of another person getting saved, even if he had no part in that person's conversion. The phony, on the other hand, will feel resentful if he had no part in it, and even more if the new Christian joins a church of another denomination or that of a rival minister.
But it is the false convert described by the speaker (not named on the Internet) who is of greater interest here. This kind of person may not be motivated by fear at all, but more by apathy. He may, for a while, show an enthusiasm for Christ, perhaps to impress fellow Christians in the church or to ensure that he is accepted and makes friends. Or maybe to satisfy his Christian parents. But after a time, whether it will be for a few months or several years, he will disappear from the church. This is not because of a new job compelling him to move location. In that case he would join another church in his new location. Rather, the reason he leaves was because his professed faith had shrivelled up, and may even show hostility towards all spiritual things. And believe me, when I was a member of both Bracknell and Ascot Baptist Churches, I have seen young converts come and go, that is to say, left the faith altogether, often with hostility, or consumed in the pleasures of this world.
The key Scripture is found in 1 John 2:19 which reads:
They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.
In other words, lack of perseverance is proof of false conversion.
And this is, I believe lies at the heart of all "Arminian" Scriptures. Consider Hebrews 3:12:
See to it, brothers, that none of you (in the church fellowship) has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.
Because in many ways it is difficult to tell the difference between the true and the false, those whose faith persevere in troubled times are most likely to have a true faith, as the Bible indicates, perseverance is in itself a gift from God. It comes in the same package as one's salvation, forgiveness of sins, a love for God and for each other and eternal life.
Let's look at the genuine believer now. Jesus refers to him as a field of good soil. He produces crops of beneficial value, up to a hundredfold. But there is more. A good test whether a believer is genuine is that he -
(a) does not sin continually and (1 John 3:6)
(b) he loves his Christian brothers. (1 John 3:10)
And both of these are found in the first letter of John.
The apostle also wrote that to say that we are sinless makes God a liar, for God says that we are sinful. (1 John 1:8) So what does John mean that the Christian does not sin? I think this means deliberate or planned sin. A Christian does not secretly steal nor is he dishonest with his money, neither does he tell a lie, nor throw insult to someone else simply out of dislike. But we are still subject to spontaneous sins, which we can call for forgiveness afterwards. A few days ago a door salesman was persuasive towards my wife who had already declined his offer. I came out and told him brusquely to beat a retreat. Afterward I realised that a more gentle approach would have been a better witness for Christ. I prayed for God's forgiveness and I believed that I received it.
A true believer will love his fellow brothers, and be ready to forgive if anyone, inside the church and out, asks for forgiveness if having offended. A true believer should not hold grudges, especially with someone who disagrees with him on certain issues. This is because the Spirit of Christ dwells in his heart, and God will always be there for him when he feels weak and needs strengthening.
And also the Holy Spirit in him will fill his heart with thankfulness, and that in particular can be true if I wake up in the morning knowing the uncertainty of the day ahead. At times of trouble he can remember that the Lord is his refuge and strength, a strong tower within the righteous run and within finds shelter. (Psalm 9:9, 46.)
The saving of the 300 people at Newday is tremendous news! I just hope this will be 300 more acres for crops to grow by a hundredfold. This would give us 30,000 acres of goodness which would glorify God and be a benefit to the churches and society as a whole. Not to mention Heavenly citizenship.