Sham Conversions

H. Winfield Graham, N. Ireland

It is becoming increasingly evident that Satan’s modern method of hindering the salvation of sinners is through sham conversions. Districts are known to us where practically every person has, at some time or other made a profession of salvation, but scarcely one gives any evidence of reality. We have known of a campaign in which eighty people professed faith in Christ; a year later only two were left. This is not an isolated case, it is a sample. The victims of these efforts either hold on to a false hope and waken up in hell, or become antagonistic to the Gospel, with the same ending.

That there would be stony-ground hearers who would with apparent joy believe, but only for a season, was revealed by the Lord in the parable of the sower. He also foretold the sowing of tares among the wheat. This is no reason why we should promote or even accept empty professions. It is no reason why we should go to sleep and give the enemy the opportunity of mingling children of the devil among the children of the kingdom.

The awful tragedy is that much of this false work is done by real dedicated Christians, with a love for souls but a zeal that is not according to knowledge. They have the idea that to multiply conversions is the only aim of the evangelist. But in this, as in other things, quality is more important than quantity. In any case, to win souls is only a part of the commission, the command is to make disciples (Mat. 28. 19, 20). Beyond all else the aim should be the glory of God and only dishonor is brought to God by the state of affairs we have mentioned. "He that winneth souls is wise" (Prov 11:30) and certainly wisdom from on high is needed for this task.

Modern high-pressure, mass-production methods contribute largely to this sad work. But the end does not justify the means. Music is used to impress the senses, the sensual part of man. The continuous repetition of a light chorus with a catchy tune works on the mind so that it becomes semi-hypnotized and can be manipulated by sentimental stories and the person lead to a decision. The persuasive power, the pleasing personality and even the appeal of the preacher all play their part in the "softening up" process. Hero worship also enters into it and preachers, as well as rock and rollers, have their giddy juvenile fans. In reality it is a milder form of the brainwashing tactics used by communists and others.

In a recent booklet Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones points out that the Apostle Paul deliberately refused to adopt a method which would have given results—persuasive words of man’s wisdom (1 Cor. 2:1-5) On this principle all "methods" of producing conversions should be avoided, because the Spirit of God works as he wills and not by method (John 3:8).

The messages often emphasize the love of God forgetting His wrath; His mercy, omitting His righteousness; His compassion, at the expense of His holiness. Salvation from hell is preached instead of salvation from sin. It is frequently stated that everybody wants to go to heaven, while the truth is that no sinner wants to go there. They want to avoid hell while continuing a life of sin. Thus it was with the impenitent thief on the cross. The audience is told that if they only believe in Jesus they will go to heaven. Study apostolic preaching and you will find that no audience was told that. An earnest, awakened, seeking, despairing jailer was told: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved" (Acts 16:31). The Lord did not tell Nicodemus, the Samaritan women, the rich young ruler, to only believe. He said: "Except a man be born again;" "Go, call thy husband"; "Sell all that thou hast." Faith is preached without repentance, but in the New Testament we find that John the Baptist, the Lord Jesus, Peter, Paul, etc., all emphasized that repentance and faith are inseparable. People are taught to believe on Jesus as Saviour and that later they should, if willing, surrender to Him as Lord. This is a complete reversal of apostolic preaching. Rom. 10:9 distinctly puts owning His Lordship before faith in the Saviour. Lord and Saviour is the consistent order in the New Testament. It is impossible for disobedient people to be saved. There is no pardon for rebels until they surrender. The faith that saves is obedience to the gospel (Rom. 10:16). This makes the rebel sinner bow to God’s Son and to God’s Word. People are told they will be in hell for not believing the gospel. They will be in hell for their sins, of which unbelief is one. The truth of man’s total depravity and of his inability to do anything to please God is not set forth; and if man does not learn his great need then a man-made conversion will satisfy him. Preachers aim at making salvation easy. Christ never did so. He pointed out the cost involved.

The fact is, of course, that no man can come to Christ except the Father draw him (John 6. 44). True conversions are the work of the Spirit of God and are not produced by eloquent preaching, nor persistent exhortation, nor by buttonholing, nor by explanation of verses. In the parable of the great supper it is found that, all who eventually were at the feast had been "brought in," "constrained to come in" (Luke 14:21, 23). In the spiritual application this is the work of the Spirit of God so that the saved sinner adoringly sings:

"Why was I made to hear thy voice,
And enter while there’s room;
While thousands make a wretched choice
And rather starve than come?"
‘Twas that same love that spread the feast
That sweetly forced me in;
Else I had still refused to taste,
And perished in my sin."

Many an evangelist mourns the false professions that follow his preaching, and is exercised about it. Many, unfortunately, remain unconcerned and do not seem to learn by experience. All Christians should seek to know the mind of God as revealed in Scripture so that their efforts in the gospel do not contribute in any way, to this soul-destroying evil. They should be deeply humbled and duly exercised by this multiplicity of sham conversions. They should avoid all complicity with it.

The reader is urged to make sure that his hope for eternity is based on Christ, and not on a decision, an experience, a conversation or a verse.