Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Missionary Prayer Letter: An Evaluation

On a regular basis, a missionary sends me his e-prayer-letter.  Here is a recent one without some of the identifying details and extraneous information:

1. . . . . A number of decisions were made at the end of the service.  [Name] returned to church.  She now lives and works in [Place].  She realized her need to be saved, but did not have time to remain after the service.  Please PRAY for her salvation as she plans to return next Sunday.  Please PRAY on for [Name], to be saved. 
2.  Our family journeyed again this afternoon to [Place], where I preached for the evening service.  God is stirring the embers of revival there after a three year lull.  Christians are witnessing again and the recipients of their witness are softening.  This new moving of the Holy Spirit is in response to the church people getting closer to the Lord and each other.  Please PRAY for God to do a deeper work in the church. 
3.  . . . . Please also PRAY for  the Lord to bring many visitors for Easter Sunday.

I don't want folks attempting to guess whose this is, because I don't want that to be the issue; however, when I read it, I saw an opportunity to look at some issues in real life among independent Baptists.  I'm going to start with number two.

2nd

2.  Our family journeyed again this afternoon to [Place], where I preached for the evening service. God is stirring the embers of revival there after a three year lull.  Christians are witnessing again and the recipients of their witness are softening.  This new moving of the Holy Spirit is in response to the church people getting closer to the Lord and each other.  Please PRAY for God to do a deeper work in the church.
First, do we have any biblical basis to judge a church has gone dormant, the coals cooling, and the fire going out, until God begins stirring the embers after three years of inactivity?  This does not describe God's working in the Bible, but it is Keswick and second blessing language.  For various reasons, churches may not obey scripture like they should, which is parallel with not submitting to the Holy Spirit.  However, God doesn't stop working in the life of a believer.  He is God Almighty with all the power of the universe.  Sanctification is an ongoing process for a believer and does not operate with lulls.  It progresses.  Lulls are not three years.

If a church is made up of believers, each of them is indwelt by the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.  1 John 3:6-9 says:

Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.  He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.  Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.

Believers do not go into perpetual states of disobedience.  God's Spirit remains in them and they cannot habitually sin, that is, sin as a lifestyle, because they are born of God.  Those who continue in sin have not seen him, neither known him -- they were never a Christian in the first place.  The explanation is a lack of conversion.

Next, he writes, "Christians are witnessing again and the recipients of their witness are softening."  In the context of this paragraph, one assumes that something is occurring in the way of God working that was not occurring before.  Very much in line with the former sentence about God stirring the embers, God is doing something He was not doing for three years, which includes the softening he describes.  I'm assuming he means that hearts that were hard are now being made soft because of some effect of this new stirring of God.

Then he says this is a "new moving of the Holy Spirit. . . . .in response to the church people getting closer to the Lord and each other."  Every believer already possesses the entire Person of the Holy Spirit.  This "new moving" language, again, is not biblical language.  Sure, on the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit moved, moved from Heaven, where Jesus had arrived, to earth where Peter was preaching.  After He moved to earth, He stayed.  In 2 Peter 1:21, "holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost."  In creation, the Spirit "moved upon the face of the waters" (Gen 1:2).  None of these are still happening though and they are experiences that no one should be expecting or looking for.

The Holy Spirit doesn't hold us hostage to getting "closer to the Lord and to each other" in order to move.  We don't have a price to pay for the Holy Spirit to move -- praying through, sacrificing, or just really, really wanting it.  We've got all of it the moment we are converted.  You can't get any closer to the Lord than that.  If we are obedient to God's Word or filled with the Spirit, we will see fruit of the Spirit, but that is not the embers being stirred and people's hearts being softened.  None of this reflects biblical sanctification or a presentation of it.  It is the language that I read in Charles Finney and Phoebe Palmer and the higher life movement.  It originated with them.

3rd

3.  . . . . Please also PRAY for  the Lord to bring many visitors for Easter Sunday.

Is this what it takes for a church to grow?  People can pray for more visitors to come on a Sunday, and if they do pray this, more will come?  If that is the case, why not make your way through the phone book and pray for every person in your area to come to church?  When you pray for many, how many does that mean?  If they don't come, why don't they?  This is not a biblical example of prayer or work for God.

What is significant about Easter Sunday for visitors?  I recognize that traditionally this is when more visitors will come when invited, because unbelievers might still come to church when it's Easter or Christmas.  However, God doesn't "bring visitors."   It isn't a prayer that you should expect God to answer and if you can't pray it in faith, you shouldn't pray it.

1st

1. . . . . A number of decisions were made at the end of the service.  [Name] returned to church.  She now lives and works in [Place].  She realized her need to be saved, but did not have time to remain after the service.  Please PRAY for her salvation as she plans to return next Sunday.  Please PRAY on for [Name], to be saved. 

Men still judge the success of a meeting by how many came to the front afterwards.  You won't see it in the Bible anywhere.  It again fits with the Keswick type of thinking.    If you surveyed church history, reading books and documents from the first century all the way to the early nineteenth century, you would find no mention of “decisions for Christ,” what became known as decisionism. It is an invention generally attributed to Finney, who emphasized the need for a decision, usually made by “coming forward” to approach the altar, entirely foreign to scripture.

If you pray for someone to be saved, will he or she be saved?   If you pray for someone's salvation, will he receive salvation?  The gospel is the power of God unto salvation.  The gospel is the best you can do with someone.  And if she really sees her need for salvation, she will receive Jesus Christ.  If she waits a week, then she really doesn't see her need.  That doesn't mean she won't be saved, but the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, not prayer for someone to be saved.

There are prayers you can pray related to the evangelism of lost people.  Pray for boldness.  Pray for wisdom.  Pray for knowledge.  Pray for a door of opportunity.  Those are biblical evangelistic prayers.  Praying for someone to be saved fits with the idea that God withholds His power until someone has asked or begged enough for it.  We know the Spirit is working through His Word when it is preached, because the "sword of the Spirit is the Word of God."  The Spirit uses the Word of God to convict in a person's heart toward salvation.  Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.  People are born again by the Word of God, which lives and abides forever.  Act in faith by doing what God has told you to do, not by expecting God to do something that He hasn't promised He would.

3 comments:

George Calvas said...

Well said, except for your 2nd point. Agree that we have the fullness of the Spirit when we first believed, but if we "grieve the Spirit" or are not filled with the Spirit (be filled with the Spirit- Ephesians 5:18) then we should pray for a "deeper work in the church", though I would not say it that way.

Show the brother a little grace until you are certain he is unbiblical.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Brandenburg,
Do you pray for specific individuals to be saved? Do you not think that Paul was praying for King Agrippa? Did Paul not pray that Israel might be saved? Why can't we get behind a missionary and pray for specific people? If you meet someone soul winning and you can tell that the Holy Spirit is convicting would you not pray for that person to be saved?

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Anonymous,

I don't pray for specific individuals to be saved, because there is not one example of it in the Bible, and because Mark 11:24 -- "Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them." -- says to pray for what I believe I will receive. I don't know that I will receive it, so I don't pray it. I pray for boldness, for wisdom, doors of utterance, biblical things, because prayer should be regulated by scripture.

Paul may have been praying for King Agrippa. Do you have something from the Bible on that? I don't think he prayed that the king would be saved.

His prayer for Israel that Israel would be saved is based upon promises of God, because God said Israel would be saved. You can read that in the OT.

Can we get more behind someone than obeying the Bible?

I don't pray for someone, who I think is convicted by the Holy Spirit, to be saved for the reasons I stated above. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation, so I preach the gospel.

I pray for people, but I pray scriptural prayers.

I have some questions for you, anonymous. 1) Do you believe in irresistible grace? 2) Do you pray by name for every single person in your phone book? Do you pray for more than the names of your phone book, but get other phone books and pray for them? 3) Is the gospel sufficient? 4) Can you name one specific lost person in the Bible who someone prayed for him to be saved?

I don't want this post to be about prayer, per se. I want us to think about wrong views of sanctification, of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and of true spirituality.