by Dr. Mike Halsey
Pastor, County Line Church
On a recent vacation I did something I’ve never voluntarily done before: I visited a church of a denomination which I have never been to before. After entering the beautiful building and going through a labyrinth of halls, I found the spacious, attractive, well-lit auditorium filled with about three hundred people.
A song leader took us through a hymn, which was followed by children taking an offering to buy school supplies for children whose parents can’t afford such things. When the children brought the money to the front and stood before the congregation, the youth pastor assured the kids that since “You have given a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name, you will not lose your salvation.”
That caused me to really sit up in my seat. What Jesus really said is, “Whoever gives one of these little ones a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward” (Matt 10:42). The youth pastor deleted one word from the Bible and substituted a totally different word. There is a big difference between reward and salvation. Eternal salvation is a gift, not a reward (Rom 4:4-5; 6:23). Yet no one seemed to notice or care. I saw no one shaking their head, flipping through pages of Scripture trying to match Christ’s words with those of the youth pastor.
Instead, a man with a trumpet appeared and played a hymn, which prepared the congregation for the sermon. While he played, I glanced through the bulletin. The pastor had prepared a feast in a tidy fashion. In the bulletin, there was a printed outline of what he was going to say, complete with fill-in-the-blanks. The sermon was a study of “Persecution” with each of his four points beginning with the letter R.
When the pastor got up to speak, I noticed that hardly anyone had their Bibles open, and those few who did were not turning to the Scripture references the pastor referred to. Nevertheless, many were busily scribbling notes in the bulletin insert, and filling in the blanks, as was I. After speaking about the Recipients of persecution and the Reasons why some are persecuted, the pastor turned to discuss the proper Response to persecution. He first told us what our Response to persecution should not be, and following his pattern, gave us three points, all with more R’s.
It was the third improper response to persecution that shook me. According to the pastor we were not to have what he called Religious superiority. The pastor described the current world situation between Islam and Christianity, and then said that we should not tell people that Christianity is superior to any other religion! He implied (though did not say it plainly) that while Christ is a savior, there are many other ways to heaven as well. I wondered how the pastor would explain John 14:6 and other NT texts that show that Jesus is not simply “a way,” but the one and only way (John 11:25; Acts 4:12).
Now remember, this church advertised itself as Evangelical and its stated mission is “to grow people in the family of God.”
As generally happens in many churches, the sermon concluded with an invitation. But when the pastor explained how to get to heaven, we were told that we must “turn from the life you are now living, a path that will ultimately lead to a place of darkness and despair, and allow Christ to lead you into an eternal life filled with His love and blessings.” Then the pastor added the condition that we must also confess our sins, and “if you want to do this today, you need to invite Jesus into your heart and ask Him to be the Savior and Lord of your life.”
So it appears that I have a lot to do in order to get to heaven. I need to turn from my sins, allow Christ to lead me, confess my sins, invite Jesus into my heart, and ask Him to be the Savior and Lord of my life. By no stretch of the imagination is such salvation a free gift. It must be earned. There was no mention of faith alone in Christ alone and no mention of “whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The most famous verse in evangelism, John 3:16, had been deleted from this pastor’s evangelistic appeal.
The service concluded and I left the auditorium. On the way home, I reflected on the service. The music was great. The kids taking the offering were cute. The auditorium was exquisite. But what did the pastor say? After muddling the gospel message, his benediction was the most tragic of all: “Go out and show love,” he concluded. “Follow Christ’s example, give glory to Christ, be a witness, and remember that He’s sending us out there to witness.” But in reality, these who were being encouraged to witness to others, needed to hear the pure gospel themselves. A sinister type of persecution was coming from their own pastor, and they didn’t even know it.
As we focus on taking the gospel around the world, let us not forsake the dire need of people in our country, and in thousands of churches across America, to hear the good news that Jesus guarantees everlasting life to all who simply believe Him for it.