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WEEKLY REFLECTIONS

~ Bad Reasons for Christian Conversion ~

Evangelism holds different meanings in different denominations of Christians. At its worst (even profane) is the kind that mimics secular marketing techniques. Here are a few garnered from some Christian radio stations and evangelical literature:

1) The celebrity conversion. A rock star, famous rapper singer or Hollywood celebrity announces his or her conversion. Within four to six weeks, that person is paraded as the poster person and spokesperson for Christ. They are invited to speak from church pulpits and Christian concert stages. Christians exclaim "Wow" and anticipate non-Christians to be impressed with their "testimony" and follow suit. These people, however, are "babes in Christ." Their conversion is only beginning to develop into spiritual maturity, which takes years, actually, a life time. To be a follower of the Way, Truth and Life is not easy. "But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it" (Matthew 7:14). There is a good reason why the apostle Paul instructed Timothy not to be quick in ordaining new converts as preachers and leaders. "Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands [ordination]" (1 Timothy 5:22a).

2) The former bad person conversion. Some are invited to speak to audiences (prevalent in prisons) about how bad and evil they were. In a typically boastful manner, they give their personal "testimonies" of abuse and aggression. That often goes on for twenty minutes, with the last five minutes praising Jesus for turning their lives around. The anticipated result is that many in the audience will say to themselves, "I want to be a good person and Jesus may change me." The Gospel of Christ is not essentially about reforming violent behavior and making people into socially acceptable, law-abiding citizens. Many therapeutic and social programs have notable success at doing that without Jesus. The Gospel is the Good News that Christ can do what no mortal can.

This approach could lead to a loss of faith and credibility in Christian conversion. When such violent, evil people respond to an "altar call" and are led in a 30 second to a minute long "sinner's prayer," they are congratulated on now being saved and "new creatures" in Christ. Emotions are running high, especially if good music is playing and the audience is clapping. What happens, then, when a day or two later, the person feels the same as before? "Jesus isn't working for me." This is not hypothetical, but a phenomenon I personally witnessed many times. If the person does seek spiritual counsel, he or she is typically told, "Don't trust your feelings. Have faith in the promise of the word of God. No matter how you feel, you are born again." When we are with a loved one, we feel. When we experience union with God, we feel. When we go through bouts of "the dark night of the soul," we feel. A Christian feels his Christianity and the Christ within and his love for Him. How can he not? Feelings cannot be trusted to be indicators of truth, but nor can rational thought. A Christian who doesn't feel love for Christ must be counseled in a different manner than telling him to "just believe the word of God. You asked Jesus into your heart and He is there, whether you feel it or not." Nonsense.

3) The hopeless addict conversion. "I asked Jesus to come into my life and I haven't touched a drug (or drink or smoke) since." I know people who suddenly quit smoking or drug use without Jesus. Again, Jesus' work cannot be duplicated by anyone's own will, resolve or recovery program. What is the value of "Jesus in my life" if something else can achieve what Jesus does? What happens when such a person "relapses" a year or five years later? What happened to Jesus in his life? Of course, evangelicals will explain this away with the term, "backsliding."

The 12-step program has been very effective in treating addictions of all kinds. It is a spiritual methodology, but not a Christian one. The "Higher Power" to whom or what one yields can be anyone or anything of the person's choosing, including or excluding the Christ. And the program still works. Does this suggest Christians should honor whatever "Higher Power" a person chooses as equal to Christ? Again, the Gospel is not about freeing people from physical or emotional addictions or afflictions. Many of the greatest Christians suffered from them, including the apostle Paul.

Many atheists, non-Christians and even persecutors of Christians in certain nations do not drink, use drugs, smoke, and abide by admirable moral standards (as did St. Paul before his dramatic conversion), but are not residents of the kingdom of God as Jesus taught it. Conversely, many afflicted, addicted and troubled people who love the Christ will find themselves in His embrace now and in the next life.

4) The hell-fire escape conversion. This is so prevalent yet needs the least commentary. Christ was quite emphatic about losing your life to save it and about abandoning all self-centered endeavors, dying to oneself. He said, "Seek first the kingdom of God and all else will be given," not "Seek first the kingdom of God SO THAT all else will be given." Using Jesus to save oneself from hell is to make oneself the object of focus rather than the Christ. This is ego-centric and contrary to the Gospel.

5) The prosperity conversion. Some believe Jesus will bring prosperity and a wonderful, earthly life. An extension of this is the promise that if you give money to Him (i.e. the local church), your monetary return will be ten-fold. That is a better deal than any financial investment you will find in the secular world! Like the other bad reasons for conversion, this is a self-centered, non-spiritual and profane motive for charitable donations and charitable works. Christ told us, "When you give, don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing."

Search the Scriptures and examine the lives and examples of the church fathers, leaders and martyrs (a word that means "witnesses") and see if any of these five evangelical marketing approaches are supported or promoted. If you think you have one or more supportive citations, please email me them for my consideration, learning and response.

In ending, the good reasons for conversion to Christianity has not been addressed here. Let's contemplate those in the next Weekly Reflection.

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
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