On Monday, two days ago, a pastor wondered out loud with me whether we were discipling unsaved people. He talked about his experience of discipleship, which involved him pursuing those who could teach him, searching the Scriptures, seeking God in prayer, and going to church whenever he could because he was excited. That was my experience of discipleship too. I pursued being discipled.
Yesterday, I went to spend nine minutes on our elliptical exercise machine. I looked for a good Christian nine-minute video, and Youtube offered me Paul Washer questioning the sinner’s prayer right on the front page. It was a little over seven minutes long, so I chose that. I turned it on, and Washer immediately began pulling words right out of my pastor friend’s mouth. He yelled that we were discipling goats.
As an aside, I am not used to being yelled at by those teaching me. I am sure many of you regularly experience that, but I almost never do. Washer’s audience was very supportive; he even commented on it. I can’t figure out why the yelling was necessary.
Anyway, he said that people who are saved by a quick gospel presentation and a quick sinner’s prayer are saved despite the process, not because of it. I concur. Nothing biblical about that process.
Washer’s alternative to the sinner’s prayer was not baptism, which is the New Testament’s “sinner’s prayer.” In the early centuries of the Church, but after the apostles’ time, there was preaching, then baptism, then the elders prayed over the convert and anointed him/her with oil to receive the Holy Spirit (but no waiting for tongues to happen). The apostles did the same thing, but when the apostles laid hands on a person, it was obvious the person received the Holy Spirit. Whether it was tongues, prophecy, or something else, when a person received the Holy Spirit in Acts everyone else could tell.
Forgive me if I am misrepresenting Paul Washer. I am about to support him, anyway. Here is a link to the 27-minute long video I watched after the 7-minute video. You can decide whether I understood what he was saying.
It seems to me that Washer was reviving a process of conversion I read about in some of the great British evangelists of the 19th and 20th centuries. I think especially of William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, and Charles Finney. Washer wants to sit with people and explain the Gospel to them and pray until they know they are converted, even if it takes hours. Finney called it “the mourner’s bench,” and he had them come repent and pray there until they knew they were saved.
I could argue against Washer with Scriptures about baptism and citations from the early church fathers. Really, though, I like William Booth’s and Charles Finney’s way of getting thoroughly converted converts who, for the most part, disciple themselves better than my way of not getting such converts.
I am realizing that one of the reasons the Holy Spirit fell with such power on the apostles’ converts is because the apostles were filled with power from God! When Philip baptized the Samaritans in Acts 8, he was puzzled that his converts did not receive the Holy Spirit. He did not assume that even though he saw no evidence, they had believed and been baptized, so they must have the Holy Spirit. It seems clear that based on nothing but experience—nothing happening—he concluded those baptized, believing Samaritans did not have the Holy Spirit. So he called for the apostles, and Peter and John came. They came, laid hands on the Samaritans, and something so astonishing happened that Simon the Magician offered Peter money to buy his super-power.
As you know, Peter rebuked him, and as you may know, Simon went off and started the gnostic religion that troubled the churches for a good 150 years or more.
I want that power, and I am sure not going to offer anyone money to buy it.
It is not that I have no power. I have seen many stirred from complacency to fervor in their walk with Christ. That saves a soul from death just like converting a sinner does (Jas. 5:19-20), so I am grateful for God using me. Nonetheless, I also want to see those to whom I preach the Gospel wind up truly and thoroughly converted.
I am completely ready to agree with Paul Washer. I need to take the time to get a person there.
Here is what I think is going on.
Jesus came down from the Mount of Transfiguration, and he found the apostles failing to cast out a demon. He told the apostles, “These kind do not come out without prayer and fasting.” Then, without praying and fasting, he cast out the demon.
Jesus was not the apostles. The apostles needed to pray and fast to do some of the things Jesus did without prayer and fasting. It was not that prayer and fasting was required to cast out the demon. Prayer and fasting was required to empower the apostles so that they would have the faith and power to cast out the demon. Jesus stayed in a powerful, full-of-faith state (and he prayed and fasted a lot as well).
The apostles got instantaneous results when they laid hands on their converts and prayed for them because they too were men of power and faith. Later, though, their descendants were not so powerful. That may be because the apostles stayed closer to God. Paul certainly made it clear that he was thorough in his self-discipline (1 Cor. 9:24-27; Php. 3:8-14).
Either way, I am ready to look for results. I am ready to stick with a person as long as is needed until their eyes fill with wonder, and they cry out, “I am saved,” or until they do what I did, which was to ask God, “What did you do to me?”
I don’t want to disciple any more disinterested people.