Discipleship and True Conversion

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.

About Paul Pavao

I am married, the father of six, and currently the grandfather of two. I run a business, live in a Christian community, teach, and I am learning to disciple others better than I have ever been able to before. I believe God has gifted me to restore proper foundations to the Christian faith. In order to ensure that I do not become a heretic, I read the early church fathers from the second and third centuries. They were around when all the churches founded by the apostles were in unity. I also try to stay honest and open. I argue and discuss these foundational doctrines with others to make sure my teaching really lines up with Scripture. I am encouraged by the fact that the several missionaries and pastors that I know well and admire as holy men love the things I teach. I hope you will be encouraged too. I am indeed tearing up old foundations created by tradition in order to re-establish the foundations found in Scripture and lived on by the churches during their 300 years of unity.
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7 Responses to Discipleship and True Conversion

  1. butterinthefield says:

    Hi Paul

    I wasn’t 100% clear what your main point was here, but maybe you were offering some general musings
    .
    That said, I feel there are a few points I’d like to comment on here (as I can’t remember how to make quotes in italics, I’ll do the old message board thing with sections from your posts in speech marks and my response after).

    “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 have encountered this approach to conversion a number of times, mainly through material online. I think I first encountered it through a Paul Washer* clip, but also through some of the older revivalists you mentioned. A similar approach of agonising protracted conversion is evident in the writings of Edwards and other Puritans and sometimes can be detected in contemporary Calvinists like John Piper, John MaCarthur and Tim Conway (the latter popularised on illbehonest.com)

    I am not exaggerating when I say that I HATE this approach. I hate it because reading and hearing about it has been the no.1 cause of doubt, despondency and lack of assurance in my Christian life for over 10 years. I hate it because it paints Christ out to be a reluctant saviour, who has to be grovelled to before anyone has the remotest chance of being saved by him. Some of the Calvinists even said that you could seek and cry and seek and seek yet still end up in hell because God simply decided not to save you. I hate it because it drains any encouragement out of sweet promises biblical promises (such as Matt 11:28, Matt 12:20, Luke 18:14, John 3:16, John 6:37, Acts 2:21, Rom 10:9, Heb 4:16, John 1:9 among many) by adding small print (e.g. they are not true for you unless you “feel” and “know” the Holy Spirit and see loads of fruit in your life).

    I don’t think there is huge scriptural warrant for this kind of approach to conversion (not least the puritan preparationism) but it still, to this day, sometimes causes me to doubt and paints an odious picture of God and Christ in my mind.

    “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.”

    As I have said before, I have had zero tangible experience of the Holy Spirit despite praying for it many, many, many, many, many times (and still do most days). It seems to be like I have two choices:
    1. Believe the revivalists and preparationists when they say that experience is of the essence of salvation, that I am headed for hell, and therefore assume that God is simply ignoring all of my prayers and is reluctant to save me.
    2. Cling to the promises of God in scripture by naked faith and try to press on as best I can.

    As former will no doubt eventually lead to some sort of mental break down, the only option is the latter.I am not saying I am opposed to experience. I really wish I did know joy unspeakable, to be able to discern the clear witness of the Spirit and to know the love of God deep down. In till that time though, to have any chance of hoping in God’s goodness, all I have is faith.

    *I feel I must mention that I actually happened to have the opportunity to speak to Paul Washer about some of these matters at a conference I attended back in the summer. He spoke to me for about 15 minutes and was incredibly kind and was very keen to encourage me in my faith. He seemed very different to the way he comes across in some of the shouty videos of him. He seems like a very humble, gentle and godly man.

    Jon

    • Paul Pavao says:

      Um … can I use this in a post again? I think we have had happy results in the past when I have used your comments as the foundation for a post. I like all of this you wrote, but I want to add to it something I left out of the post yesterday. What I said yesterday is not “cut and dry” or “this is the only way,” though I admit it sounded like that. Without instant, on-the-spot feedback and without days to revise and edit, I don’t always produce the tone I desire my readers to imagine, especially when I have a preacher’s yelling echoing in my ears. What is with that yelling thing anyway?

      Anyway, if I can use your reply, I have some thoughts about faith I want to add to it.

  2. Doug Chamley says:

    Amen to the statement of investing our time to disciple those that are saved and wanting to be disciples, doing all they can to BE discipled. We shouldn’t have to coerce someone to be a disciple. If they are saved they are going to WANT that life and they will pursue it with a real desire, born in them from above. I believe we need to make it very plain and keep it simple. The power of the Holy Spirit is definitely available and working today as it was in the early church. Perhaps our desire to be filled and operate in that power is not as defined as it was then. I think we get used to operating out of our own power and thoughts, believing that God will bless it and people will get saved. While some of that may happen, I don’t think we really know how to walk in a “filled with the power of the Spirit” way. May God give us the true vision of such a state of being in Christ that this power can come to dwell in us and work through us.

  3. KatieAnn says:

    Hello Paul, I also have been wondering about the power of the Holy Spirit and why so few people show that kind of power the first apostles had (myself included). I watched a video on this on youtube as well. The message of the video (and please excuse me for roughly summarizing it) was that the apostles were granted that kind of power from God so that the gospel would be able spread like it did. Who would have believed them if they didn’t have the kind of power that amazed people? Healings and miracles were the sign that God was with them. I think this was necessary in the beginning to get the message out and convert enough people. From there, it has continued to grow, albeit with less intensity (for the most part).
    As for me, I have thought to myself, if I am saved, why do I lack any power? I even sometimes struggle with doubts, which absolutely terrifies me. Once believing in Christ, my greatest fear was losing my faith because accepting Him gave me the greatest peace I have ever known. And I love Him with a ferocious love. I will continue to study and think about the faith daily. You have mentioned something, though, that I think is important, and that is fasting. It keeps coming to my attention and I have not done it. Perhaps that is something I should seriously consider.
    God bless you Paul!

    • Paul Pavao says:

      Thank you. In the early days of the church many Christians fasted twice a week, but there are a couple things this could mean. Sometimes it mean they had only bread and water that day, and anything extra they would have had went to the poor. Sometimes it meant fasting all day long, then having a meal after sunset. I have had times in my life that I fasted (no food) for one day each week. It gets easier after 3 weeks or so. Our community recently had a corporate fast, and I would like to see us doing that more.

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