The good questions keep on coming. One reader asks, “Have you ever come across pastors who are well known that give differing salvation messages? It seems that sometimes they’ll give the correct, Biblical salvation, but at other times they will give salvation by works. I don’t understand. If they give the Biblical, faith-alone salvation, why would they change it at other times to a Lordship/works message? Would you shed some light on this?”
Yes. I have come across well known pastors who give differing salvation messages.
When I taught at Multnomah School of the Bible (now Multnomah University) in 1986-87, I heard a famous evangelist preach in a Portland Bible church. He gave an evangelistic message. I took out paper and wrote down everything he said someone had to do to be born again. He gave a whopping nine (9!) different conditions. Here are some of the nine I remember: receive Christ as your personal Savior, receive Him as your Lord and Savior, commit your life to Christ, give your life to Christ, believe in Him, and receive Him into your life.
I think he gave all those different conditions because he thought that different statements might reach different people. You see, I think that he believed that salvation is in Jesus, and if someone responds positively to Jesus, he will be born again. He didn’t seem to think that one had to get his thinking precisely right to be born again.
In the last decade I’ve heard a handful of famous pastors give conflicting evangelistic messages on different occasions. I get lots of emails from people advising me to listen to Pastor So-and-so‘s message in which he gives a Lordship Salvation message. But then I get another email within a year in which the same pastor gave a faith-alone message.
I think there are several reasons why this happens.
First, like the evangelist I heard over three decades ago, I think they feel that there are various ways in which a person can be born again, as long as he responds positively to Jesus. So different approaches will reach different people. I doubt they see what they are doing as compromising.
Second, I think pastors of big churches are under lots of pressure to preach evangelistic messages that will please people in their congregations. I’ve had Free Grace people tell me that they urged their pastor to say that all who simply believe in Jesus are born again, then the pastor preaches that message one Sunday, but not a month later, his evangelistic close is back to “surrendering and committing to Jesus.” The pastor heard the Free Grace person and gave a message to satisfy him. But then he gave a different close to please others in his church.
I think that well known pastors vary their evangelistic messages in order to keep everyone in their churches happy. If they are convinced that these varying messages are essentially the same message, then they see no harm in the variety and in appeasing various people in their congregations.
I have not found examples of pastors who gave a faith-alone message one week who later gave a works-salvation message. I’ve found they tend to stay in a range between mildly Free Grace and mildly Lordship Salvation. They don’t tend to proclaim strong Free Grace messages or strong Lordship Salvation messages.
Pastors should preach the faith-alone message every time they evangelize and whenever they summarize what one must do to be saved. There are many ways to proclaim the faith-alone message. But they will always be clear that the sole condition for spending eternity with the Lord is believing in Him.