Results tagged “conversion” from Reformation21 Blog

Spurgeon's standards for conversion and membership

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Spurgeon, Charles Haddon 4.jpgI hope that I will be able at some point to provide a review of Tom Nettles' excellent volume, Living for Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon (pastors and preachers, you need this book, and can get it at Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Westminster).

In the meantime, there are a couple of threads from the book that it is profitable to weave together. Spurgeon was adamant that the door to the church be well-guarded, and had a carefully-developed system whereby converts applying for membership were graciously but robustly assessed by elders, himself, and the whole congregation. He did not rush people into professions of faith, baptism and church membership (indeed, he had some distaste for the inquiry room as potentially exerting a pressure beyond that of the Holy Spirit's work on the heart of a sinner).

At two separate points in the book, Nettles shows how - at times of particular evangelistic endeavour, as well as during the more regular procedures of church life - the saints were encouraged to make a thoughtful and scriptural assessment of a man's standing with God and prospective relationship with the local church.

With regard to conversion,
counselors of inquirers looked for three pivotal evidences of true conversion. One focused on the nature of the individual's perception of his sin and dependence on the work of Christ. Did the inquirer seem to have a clear and distinct and abiding sense of the seriousness of his offense toward God, a healthy remorse for that sin, a desire to turn from it and cease such offensive behavior toward God; did he also recognize that God was willing to receive him through the atonement made by Christ and through that alone? Second, did the present determination of the person's soul indicate a clear intention to live for Christ and overcome the opposing forces of the world; did he feel the urgency of seeing others escape from the wrath to come? Three, with a full knowledge of his own unworthiness and his full dependence on God, did the person have some knowledge of the doctrines of grace and that mercy was the fountain from which his salvation flowed? (310-11)
Then, with a great deal of common ground, here is the expectation for church membership:
Arnold Dallimore's examination of this book [called the Inquirers {sic} Books, in which interviewing elders recorded their comments] showed that the entire interview process centered on the determination of three things. One, is there clear evidence of dependence on Christ for salvation? This involved a clear and felt knowledge of sin and a deep sense of the necessity of the cross. Two, does the candidate exhibit a noticeable change of character including a desire for pleasing God and a desire for others to believe the gospel? Three, is there some understanding of, with a submission to, the doctrines of grace? The only effective antithesis to merit salvation, in Spurgeon's view, was a knowledge of utter dependence on divine mercy. (248)
Perhaps, in our day, we are not always sure what we should be looking for in the heart and life of men and women who profess faith in the Lord Jesus. Far too many churches, perhaps feeling the pressure of numbers or some other force, are inclined to drop their standards or blur their distinctions, if they have them in the first place. In the face of that, these standards seem to me to be thoroughly biblical, genuinely gracious, and appropriately robust. They combine doctrinal understanding, experimental religion, and principled obedience - a religion of head, heart and hand, if you will. If more congregations embraced a righteous assessment of this sort with regard to professing converts and applicants for membership, I am persuaded that they would be spiritually healthier places than they too often are.

What is truth?

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As part of our attempts to proclaim Christ in our small corner, we are investing some effort in a village near the town where I live. This village is, I think, fairly typical of our part of the world. It has a storied and pleasant-looking Church of England building nestled near the comfortably ancient pub at the centre of the village, and a good number of the villagers have some kind of association with the church (often a long family tradition). Some have lived in the village for years, if not all their lives, while others are newcomers. Many are simply apathetic, though some are sufficiently stirred to be hostile. There are agnostics, atheists, pagans and heathens all living cheek-by-jowl with one another.

It has been hard going to make Christ known here. In an attempt to engage a little more with the people that we meet and speak with, as well as to provide some kind of impetus and framework for some upcoming gospel meetings, we have been using a brief survey (six questions with multiple choice answers) to prompt discussion and thought as we go from house to house. We ask, on a number of points, "What is truth?" The results to date have been profoundly grievous.

Almost without exception, men and women of any and all convictions have assured us that - if there is a God, and if he communicates at all - he does so through impulses and feelings, and that there is nothing any clearer or more certain. Asked if life has any point, the responses are largely split between the assertion that life has no point whatsoever or that life is whatever you make it, no more and no less. God is in none of their thoughts.

The people of this village have no explanation for suffering, although some have accepted the possibility that it is the result of natural selection. What happens when we die? Several assert that it is simply the end, but most believe that it is impossible to know.

Although none to date have claimed that Jesus was a fraud, most will take him merely as a good man or great teacher rather than as the Son of God - and I will not begin to describe what they think that last option actually means. Most believe that the death of Christ was either pointless or a tragic mistake.

These answers are given across the board. Men and women who have been faithfully attending the Anglican church for decades give the same answers as the Muslim policeman who patrolled the streets one day and the casual mystics and dabbling Buddhists. We have found so few with any seemingly substantial faith and hope, almost none for whom their profession makes any more than a superficial difference to their patterns of life. With the exception of a few who attend churches outside the village, the professing Christians are as void of any accurate knowledge of the truth as those who claim to have rejected Christianity with all its trappings. Ardent religionists, angry atheists, friendly agnostics, earnest seekers, and those who cultivate their own private spirituality are all equally lost in the same moral morass, drifting lost without any anchors to drop, let alone any solid ground in which to drop them.

On one level, this is not surprising, for it is precisely what the Scriptures tell us to expect. On another, nothing can be more agonising, for there is a fearful judgement ahead for these needy sinners, many of whom are blithely skipping toward it, confident in their own strength and wisdom, or assured by false teachers of every stripe (including those who sail under cover of a Christian profession) that all will be well.

Christian friend, do you long to see God shake the secure, rattle the carnal, convict the careless and terrify the ungodly, to give them a present and pressing sense of their need in order that the gospel of Christ in all its sweet simplicity and saving security may become precious to them? Do you long to see them running to the great Physician as those who have become profoundly aware of their spiritual sickness? If we are to make any headway in this village and in the other places in which we preach Christ crucified, it must be as the Spirit of Christ opens the eyes of the blind, unstops the deaf ears, and gives life to the dead heart - we must pray to this end. It is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2Cor 4.6), and it is that same God with whom we must plead that he might do the same for others. Pray for us, and pray for yourselves, that God would do the work, shatter the chains of those in bondage, and bring the lost to their senses and then - through Christ as Saviour - to himself.