For years I’ve struggled with churches who list salvations and “celebrate,” their victories. As a pastor, I know that I already seem awful for writing this sentence. Yet, it really isn’t my intention to take away joy. My purpose is to question whether or not we, as pastors, are capturing the truth of the Bible.
Consider repentance. Most agree that repentance is a requirement for salvation. There are two different types of repentance in the Bible. One type of repentance is worldly. This repentance is illustrated by someone who is sorrowful about his or her situation. This is much like Judas Iscariot who betrayed Christ. He was sorry because he had betrayed an innocent man. So to escape his situation he was sorry enough to hang himself. We may assume that he likely did not receive salvation since he did not adequately repent; and since Jesus said it was going to be bad for the person who betrayed him.
In the Bible, the repentance that leads to eternal life is known by many to be Godly repentance. This repentance occurs when someone is sorry for his or her sin. In fact, they are sorry enough to change his or her life from living a life of disobedience to a life of obedience. This is foundational for salvation. Paul, also known as Saul before his conversion, is a great example of this type of repentance since his life was completely changed on the Damascus Road.
Many pastors and theologians are now questioning “The Sinner’s Prayer.” The concern is that many are simply hanging their hats on simply believing in Jesus and that phrase itself as if there is nothing left to do. While I continue to use this phrase, since it helps me to explain to someone what salvation looks like, I also realize that many pray this prayer and do not really commit to the Lord. Herein lies the problem for listing, or counting, salvations for everyone to see. If these people never bear fruit and have nothing more to do with church, then they cannot be counted. They are still in their old lives and not new life in Christ.
Let’s look at confession now. Yes, I said confession. It is biblical and not solely Catholic (Roman), but it is catholic (universal). In fact, in the Bible we are told to confess our sins to each other (James 5:16). But, in today’s modern church, we simply ask people to raise their hands if they want to receive Christ as their Savior. I see reports on Facebook sometimes where members of a church talk about people receiving Christ in services and use numbers anywhere from 10-3000! This is great news! Yet, when you investigate what this might have looked like, these salvations were seen by a show of hands. What about confession?
Consider John the Baptist for a moment. When he called on Israel to repent, he did not ask for a show of hands. He asked them to come forward to be baptized. What of confession? Who did those who “received” Christ confess their sins too? I guess we could say to Jesus, but what of “to each other?” Who will hold them accountable so that it can be measurable, really, whether or not they were actually saved?
Consider the idea of believing. Belief is a multi-use word in our society. For example, I believe The Statue of Liberty exists; though I have not experienced it. I have not shaped my life after it; but I do give it patriotic praise during wartime. Again, I believe in air which has impacted my life because I can’t stay underwater long if I should choose and I know that I am sustained by it. Yet, while on dry land I think nothing of it. However, believing in Jesus goes beyond that of the demons since He does have my respect. I now use the term believe to reveal that I have staked my entire being on Him and His ability to save me physically and spiritually. When I use that term in that way it dwarfs when I use the word believe in the context of The Statue of Liberty. Same word, but two different intentions and outcomes.
Do those who are counted as salvations really understand what it means to believe, and how it impacts your whole life with a simple hand-raise? We haven’t talked about Vacation Bible School yet.
What about receiving? Reception seems to look like transformation as the result of receiving. I am amazed on a regular basis that fruit never seems to be measurable from those who raise their hands to be saved; except in attendance at church on Sundays. Transformation often does not take place in such a way that fruit can be measured outside of a church setting. I likely sound judgmental. Yet, Paul and Jesus seemed to believe that we could see the results of someone’s salvation easily.
I write this so that we can get a discussion going about what real salvation looks like. In fact, if my concerns are valid, then people need to reexamine whether or not they received Christ. Further, this could mean that The Church in America is worse off than we realize since numbers may be skewed. Again, I will say that if everyone, who we like to claim is really saved is really saved, then the impact of The Church in America would not have to resort to politics to change the country, but the country would be changed by transformed lives.
I feel more comfortable to say that my church had a certain amount of salvations when people are conquering evil in their lives. I feel comfortable when these people are active in church, and out of church. Often churches will record many salvations, yet their attendance numbers do not change. My fear is that we are creating manipulative excitement in order to make our churches look wonderful. And that we are competing church with church through these possibly skewed numbers. This is why I’m hardcore about salvations listing.