By Marcia Hornok
Recently I attended a large Bible church, well known in Evangelical circles for expository sermons and the longevity of its lead pastor’s ministry. He has a vast online presence; his popular study Bible has been distributed worldwide, and he founded a seminary to train pastors.
Enjoying the organ music while waiting for the service to begin, I picked a pew card out of its slot and read, “What It Means to Be a Christian.” The first four paragraphs described God as the Sovereign Creator who is holy, while mankind is sinful and “utterly incapable of understanding, loving, or pleasing God on our own (Rom 3:10-12).” The fifth paragraph told about sin demanding a penalty, which is death (Ezek 18:4). It was the final two paragraphs that infuriated me.
Paragraph six began, “Jesus Is Lord and Savior. Romans 10:9 says, ‘If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.’” The little card never told what to be saved from. It did say that God “will forgive and save those who place their faith in Him (Romans 3:26)”—a verse that mentions faith in Jesus, but not forgiveness or being “saved.”
Of all the verses that could have been chosen to explain that salvation from sin and hell means eternal life, the pew card used verses which never mention the words eternal life. The only thing that comes close in the card is John 17:3, given as a citation for “pursuing Christ.” And just as inexplicable, the words “gift” and “grace” are totally absent from the wording on the card, as well as
from the Scripture references cited.
Now I will quote the final paragraph. Read it as if you are an unbeliever, and see if it entices you to want to become a Christian:
The Character of Saving Faith. True faith is always accompanied by repentance from sin. Repentance is agreeing with God that you are sinful, confessing your sins to Him, and making a conscious choice to turn from sin (Luke 13:3,5; 1 Thessalonians 1:9) and pursue Christ (Matthew 11:28-30; John 17:3) and obedience to Him (1 John 2:3). It isn’t enough to believe certain facts about Christ. Even Satan and his demons believe in the true God (James 2:19), but they don’t love and obey Him. True saving faith always responds in obedience (Ephesians 2:10).
That is how the card ended—with all those conditions added to faith.
How is that “good news”?
This 3×5 card, containing 455 words, cited 20 Scripture references, but quoted only 3: “You shall be holy for I am holy” (1 Pet 1:16); “There is no man who does not sin” (1 Kgs 8:46); and Rom 10:9, cited above.
The lead pastor of this church prides himself on exegetical preaching, but his approach seems to be “interpretation by cross reference,” often disregarding context, as one can see from his reference to Rom 10:9 above. Having read several of his books, I was not surprised that he adds works to faith for salvation, while the Bible does so only for sanctification.
God wrote all Scripture to His people “for doctrine, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). Even in the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus’ ministry purpose can be seen as training His disciples through everything He said and did. Yes, He evangelized the lost and rebuked religious leaders, but then He pointed out to the Twelve what He had done, often by asking them questions in true rabbinical style. Lucas Kitchen said, “Matthew, Mark, and Luke didn’t write to tell unbelievers how to become believers, but they wrote to believers to tell them how to obey Christ, which is what discipleship is all about.”1
When we Evangelicals explain the gospel, we must focus on Jesus’ person, provision, and promise, then invite people to receive the free gift of eternal life by believing. That’s the good news we need to share in person, through social media, and on pew cards.
Marcia Hornok writes from Salt Lake City where her husband pastored Midvalley Bible Church for 39 years. For a free digital copy of her illustrated book of 40 Brief Evangelistic Analogies, mail her at email@example.com.
1. Lucas Kitchen, Eternal Life: Believe to be Alive (Free Grace International, nd), 75.