Recently I went to Kenya to conduct a week-long conference on the Gospel of John for pastors and church workers. I want to make some observations, within my limited experience, on teaching in other countries.
The conference had approximately 150 attendees. It is safe to say that almost all (if not all) of them strongly rejected the idea of eternal security. How did they respond to a Free Grace teacher challenging them on this belief as we went through the Gospel of John?
In Kenya, some pastors are bishops in control of a number of other churches. Pastors who were not bishops at the conference would have to answer to their bishops if they accepted the doctrine of eternal security. The bishops in attendance would have to instruct their underling pastors of a change in their own doctrinal stance.
I learned that these church leaders, of various stripes, have tremendous power and control over their church members. They are the ones who claim they can release them from demonic control. Some even teach that things like diabetes and high blood pressure are the result of demons. Curses and blessings flow from these pastors as well. There is a pretty strong belief that tithing is necessary to enter into the kingdom of God. Across the board, people in these churches are in constant fear of going to hell. They pretty much unanimously believe that the doctrine of grace leads to sinful living.
Not surprisingly, some people in attendance were strong in their opposition to what I was saying. A few quit coming after the first day. Others were skeptical but kept coming to hear what the guy from the United States had to say. My guess is that even after a week they were not convinced of what I was explaining from John’s Gospel.
Of course, John’s Gospel speaks for itself. It is clear from the book that eternal security is a Biblical doctrine and what these pastors were teaching was wrong. Fortunately, most in attendance admitted that this was the case. There were many comments after the conference that attested to this fact. I was even asked to come back and teach more on the gospel of grace and rewards and do an even longer conference on these topics.
None of this should surprise any of us. When Christ taught and when Paul taught, some rejected, some were interested, and some were convinced of the truth that was spoken.
But how do we interpret such things and how do we know how “successful” this ministry trip was? Will these church leaders who believed go back and teach such wonderful truths? Would they willingly give up the control and power they have over the people in their congregations? Would they challenge the power of their bishops or, in the case of the bishops, be willing to tell those under them that they have been wrong? Would such a bishop lose his cushy job?
Some would say we need to leave such controversies alone. Eternal security is seen as a minor issue and we can have differences. I cannot state how strongly I disagree. I believe that teaching the loss of salvation is teaching a different gospel. But aside from that, it is horrifying to see the fear that people in these churches live with, believing that if they commit one of a long list of sins, or if they don’t give enough money to the church, they will spend eternity in the lake of fire. They feel this way even though many of them live in abject poverty. Giving money can impact if their family has enough to eat.
I also think we need to take into consideration the practice of these pastors when we look at our support of missions. I often hear how strong churches overseas are, compared to the worldliness of many churches in the United States. It is true that we struggle in our churches with the love of the world, but my experiences tell me that these foreign churches are not as healthy as many missionaries lead us to believe. Let me be blunt. I think many of these pastors are tyrants and not shepherds. In such instances, these churches are not healthy at all.
I am afraid that in many cases missionaries lift these foreign church leaders up because of numbers. Many of these leaders are successful because they have the largest congregations, and missionaries who work with them can be a part of that “success.” It seems to me that such leaders should not be promoted, but rebuked. I think those of us who support missions should take a closer look at what we are supporting.
Pastors who reject eternal security are teaching false doctrine on a vital point. Eternal security is not a minor issue. It is what the Lord Jesus and the apostle Paul call “the gift of God” (John 4:10; Eph 2:8-9).
Each attendee not only spent hours listening to the grace found in the Gospel of John. They also each received at least one book from GES explaining such truths. They also were given the address to the GES website where they would have a great deal of Free Grace literature available to them for free.
Let’s pray for these church leaders, that the Holy Spirit will give them the strength to proclaim the truth in their country. It is not enough that they know the truth. They need to pass that truth on to others, regardless of the personal cost.