Why Mormonism Is Not Christian
Leonard C. Albert
I know! I know! They’re nice people. Everybody says that and I agree. But the purpose of this article is not to show that Mormons are nice people. There are some nice Buddhists, and I have met scores of Hindu people who were really nice. We’re not talking about the people of Mormonism; we’re talking about the doctrine of Mormonism. The real question is this: Is the doctrine of Mormonism a Christian doctrine?
This is my 40th year of studying the cults and world religions. I have devoted many hours to the study of this amazing cultic organization called “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (LDS). Here is a group of over 12 million people who believe there is no hell, who baptize living people for dead people, and who believe the Bible is inferior to the Book of Mormon. They are people who believe the Trinity is composed of three separate gods, who believe they will be become gods themselves, who believe that all other religions are false, and who believe that Jesus is the spirit brother of Lucifer, and that He was married and had more than one wife. And that’s just for starters! Ultimately, there is only one decision that we can conclude: Mormons and Christians worship at different altars.
There are many (and I mean many) critical doctrinal differences between Mormonism and Christianity. It would be easy to come up with 20 or 30, but I will do my best to show you five big reasons I believe that Mormonism is not Christian. On church teachings and doctrinal statements I will only quote LDS sources from their own story and doctrine. Here are my five reasons:
I. Joseph Smith. This is the man who started the entire movement. He lived from 1805 to 1844. According to Smith, beginning in the early 1820s, he had visions. In some visions an angel directed him to some buried golden plates that were inscribed with a Christian history of ancient American civilizations. In 1830, Smith published what he said was an English translation of these plates as the Book of Mormon, and organized the LDS church, saying he had been chosen by God to restore the early Christian church. Church members were later called Latter-day Saints or Mormons. Years later Mormon President Joseph Fielding Smith, the tenth LDS prophet said, “Mormonism, as it is called, must stand or fall on the story of Joseph Smith. . . . He was either a prophet of God, divinely called, properly appointed and commissioned, or he was one of the biggest frauds this world has ever seen.”
Was Joseph Smith really a prophet of God? In order to find out we must first answer the question: Who qualifies as a true prophet of God? At this point we must yield to the authority of scripture. Consider the following:
A true prophet’s words will be in absolute harmony with the words of the prophets that have preceded him (Isaiah 8:20).
- A true prophet does not lie—his predictions will be fulfilled (Jeremiah 28:9 and Deuteronomy 18:22).
- A true prophet prophesies in the name of the Lord, not in his own name (2 Peter 1:21).
- A true prophet does not give his own private interpretation of prophecy (2 Peter 1:20).
According to LDS scripture, when Joseph Smith was 15 years old, he was confused as to which church was true. He claimed his heart was powerfully impressed one night and went into the woods near his house to pray that God would tell him which of all the Christian sects (denominations) was right. As he began to pray, he claimed that he was nearly overcome by “some power” of “astonishing influence” that prevented him from speaking. This story is in the current LDS publication titled, Pearl of Great Price. Here is what it says,
It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—“This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)—and which I should join. I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.
This story is accepted as scripture by the Mormon people. This is the “official” LDS version. There are in fact nine different versions of this story. Also, it is interesting to note that this vision supposedly occurred in 1820 but was not published until 1842 in the Mormon publication Times and Seasons. Why? Why wait 22 years? We believe it is because the story came later—much later than 1820. Personally, I don’t think it ever happened. If Joseph Smith did have this “vision” then it was not from God.
Think about what Joseph Smith said in the words printed above. We are led to believe these personages were God and Jesus because he says one of the “personages” points to the other and says, “This is my Beloved Son. Hear Him!” In the words that follow, all denominations (sects) were wrong. All wrong? Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Congregationalists, or Lutherans? Today we have over 200 denominations in the USA—all wrong? Their creeds are an “abomination?” The Christian tenets, all Christian doctrine, all evangelical beliefs an abomination? Then all “professors” (believers) are corrupt. In one stroke of the pen all denominations, churches, doctrines, and believers are denounced as wrong, an abomination and corrupt. The early church fathers, all the Christian martyrs, Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, and George Whitefield all corrupt?
How could any thinking person believe that a 15-year-old child could have a vision like this? How could we ever believe that Joseph Smith is the founder of a religion that believes all others are false and teaches a “restored gospel”? Do you really think this boy could be a prophet of God?
Here’s why I don’t believe it:
Inconsistency about church membership. In the vision Smith was told to “join none of them” referring to the local churches. In 1828 (eight years later) Joseph Smith sought membership in the Methodist church where his wife, Emma, had belonged since she was seven years old.
Joseph Smith’s false prophecies. Smith said Jesus would “return within 56 years” (by 1891). He didn’t! Smith said that the temple “would be built in Missouri within his generation.” It wasn’t! Smith said that “All Nations would be involved in the American Civil War.” They weren’t! Smith said that the sun would hide its face and refuse to give light, and the moon would be bathed in blood in not many days.” Neither prophecy has come true! Smith said his son would be his successor in leadership of the church and be “king of Israel.” Smith’s son did not succeed him (Brigham Young became the second leader) nor did his son become “king of Israel.” Joseph Smith made many false prophecies.
Universal apostasy. The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints believe that the church that was founded by Christ and His apostles was destroyed from the earth, that the Gospel was perverted, its ordinances were changed, its laws were transgressed, its covenant was broken, and the world was left to flounder in the darkness of a long period of apostasy from God. This is absolutely false. In Ephesians 3:21 Paul said, “To Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” Could that statement be true if there were a universal apostasy of the church for several centuries? Our Lord Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” There is absolutely no proof, historically nor biblically, that the church went into apostasy after the first century.
Joseph Smith’s theology. To be a true prophet you must speak the Word of God. I have a copy of the “King Follett Discourse” printed and circulated by the Mormon Church. This “speech” is classified as an “utterance” by the “prophet” Joseph Smith. Here is his actual statement from this document.
I will prove that the world is wrong, by showing what God is . . . God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by His power, was to make Himself visible—I say, if you were to see Him today, you would see Him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God . . . It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for certainty the character of God and to know that we may converse with Him as one man converses with another, and that He was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the father of us all, dwelt on earth, that same as Jesus Christ himself did; and I will show it from the Bible . . . Here, then is eternal life—to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all gods have done before you.
The Mormons believe that God was a man and that (Mormon) men will become gods. This is why I said earlier that Christians and Mormons worship at different altars.
II. Book of Mormon. The LDS church teaches that in 1823, an angel named Moroni visited Joseph Smith and divulged the location of some golden plates containing the “fullness of the everlasting gospel.” These plates—abridged by Moroni and his father, Mormon, 1400 years earlier— were written in “reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics.” Along with the plates, Smith found a pair of magical eyeglasses that he used to translate the cryptic writing into English. The first edition of this work was printed by the church in 1830 and is called The Book of Mormon.
In the introduction page to this book it says: “The Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible. It is a record of God’s dealing with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas and contains, as does the Bible, the fullness of the everlasting gospel.” This is simply not true. It is not comparable to the Bible and it certainly does not contain the “fullness of the everlasting gospel.” There are many central and critical beliefs held sacred by the Mormons that are not even mentioned in this book. Here are just a few of these teachings:
- Elohim (God the Father in Mormonism) was once a mortal man and that he was not always God.
- God has a body of flesh and bones.
- God is married in heaven.
- Men can become Gods.
- Temple participation is necessary to become exalted.
- Jesus and Lucifer are brothers.
- The blood of Christ does not cleanse us from certain sins.
- A person can lose his salvation if he is not baptized on behalf of dead relatives.
- There is more than one God.
- Males must hold either the Aaronic or Melchizedek Priesthood.
- There are “three degrees of glory.”
- “Celestial polygamy” (Mormon men will have many wives in heaven) is approved by God.
- Faithful members of the church must wear sacred undergarments that have the power to protect them.
Many evangelical believers have no idea that Mormonism teaches these things. Be assured that the above list is very accurate and can be easily documented. None of these teachings are to be found in the Book of Mormon. Don’t you think that if it is the “fullness of the everlasting gospel” it should contain their central teachings? They will be quick to tell you that there are other “sacred books” that explain their beliefs. Don’t allow this diversion. There are only two to be considered here: The Book of Mormon and the Holy Bible. Only these two are said to contain “the fullness of the everlasting gospel.” The eighth article of faith in the Mormon Church says “We believe the Bible to be the Word of God as far as it is translated correctly.” To them, the Bible is inferior to the Book of Mormon. Here are some reasons why I don’t believe the Mormon bible is the Word of God:
Thirty-eight cities mentioned—none have ever been found. No Mormon cities have been located by using the Book of Mormon as a guide. Archaeologists have never successfully used the Book of Mormon as a guide in locating any ancient ruins. Leading archeological researchers not only have repudiated the claims of the Book of Mormon as to the existence of those civilizations, but have amassed much evidence to show the impossibility of the accounts given in the Mormon bible. Many times Mormons will cite how the Smithsonian Institute backs up their claims. The following is an official statement made by the Smithsonian in 1979: “The Smithsonian Institution has never used the Book of Mormon in any way as a scientific guide. Smithsonian archaeologists see no connection between the archaeology of the New World and the subject matter of the book.”
No such language as “Reformed Egyptian Hieroglyphics.” The Book of Mormon was supposedly translated from “reformed Egyptian.” Nothing on the western hemisphere has been found that even remotely resembles Egyptian. Officially “reformed Egyptian” doesn’t exist. Think about it: the LDS church says that these ancient people in middle America were Jews who came over from Palestine. The last language that any Jew would write in would be Egyptian! The Hebrew language is one of the most pure languages of all time. They surely would have written any of their history in Hebrew as they did in the Old Testament.
Book of Mormon changed at least 3,913 times—many were major changes. The LDS have added words, they have deleted words, they have made textual changes, and they have made thousands of spelling changes. Many Mormons minimize this fact by saying that the changes have been minor. Typographical errors are one thing but they have made weighty changes in doctrine, and they have corrected major errors in consistency and in common sense. Jerald and Sandra Tanner compiled a photo reprint of the original 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon with all the changes marked. I will cite one of the first doctrinal changes here: on the title page in the 1830 edition it states: “. . . by Joseph Smith, Junior, Author and Proprietor.” In today’s edition it states: “Translated by Joseph Smith, Jun.”
Contains plagiarism from King James Version—25,000 words taken verbatim from the King James Version of the Bible. There are 19 complete chapters copied word-for-word from the Bible. How can this be? The Book of Mormon was supposedly written 1200 years before the King James Version was published.
Contains prophetical errors. In the King James Bible it says in Micah 5:2: “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” However, the Book of Mormon said He would be born at Jerusalem. In the Book of Mormon it says in Alma 7: 10 “And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers, she being a virgin . . .”
Nobody has ever physically seen the “golden plates.” Mormons say that people have seen them but with the “eye of faith.” We are told that they are now in heaven. Further, the plates would have weighed between 200-230 pounds. There is no way young Joseph Smith could have even picked them up!
III. Theology of God. The third big reason I believe that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not Christian is focused on their teaching about God and His attributes. Here are some of the principal teachings about the god of Mormonism:
God (the Mormon god) was once a man. Joseph Smith said, “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens.” Milton Hunter, member of the 1st Council of the Seventy, echoed Smith’s claims in his book Gospel Through the Ages. On page 114 it states: “. . . if we accept the great law of eternal progression, we must accept the fact that there was a time when Deity was much less powerful than He is today.” So the Mormon Church believes that God progresses—that He knows more today than He did yesterday. They believe that He once had a body of flesh and bones and is now an exalted man. In Doctrine and Covenants 130:22 it says, “The Father has a body of flesh and bone as tangible as man’s . . .”
There are many gods. Joseph Smith said, “In the beginning, the head of the gods called together a council of the gods and they came together and concocted a plan to create the world and people in it.” The Mormon Church believes that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost comprise the Godhead just as we do. But they add a twist to this concept. They believe that each of these three persons in the Godhead is a god. Thus, their theology allows for a plurality of gods to exist. Mormon leader Bruce McConkie said, “To us, speaking in the proper finite sense, THESE THREE ARE THE ONLY GODS WE WORSHIP. But in addition there is an INFINITE NUMBER of holy personages, drawn from worlds without number, who have passed on to exaltation and are thus gods.”
Adam is God. Again, in the Journal of Discourses Brigham Young said, “When our father Adam came into the Garden of Eden, he came into it with a celestial body and brought Eve one of his wives with him. He helped to make and organize his world. He is our Father and our God and the only God with whom we have to do.” Please notice how they take elements from the truth of God’s Word and add their own version of the truth. In the above quote they say “Adam came into the Garden” indicating that he pre-existed before that time. Notice that they say he came with a “celestial body and brought Eve one of his wives with him” indicating that he had more than one wife. This is a common occurrence in the cultic world. They take some Bible truth to make it sound good and then add the false teaching in with it!
There is a Mother god. Mormonism not only teaches a heavenly Father with flesh and bones, but also a “heavenly Mother” with flesh and bones as well. LDS Apostle James Talmage, in a book titled Articles of Faith, wrote on page 443: “We are expressly told that God is the Father of spirits, and to apprehend the literalness of this solemn truth we must know that a Mother of spirits is an existent personality.” Also in the book, Gospel Through the Ages, page 98, Milton Hunter said, “The stupendous truth of the existence of a heavenly Mother, as well as a heavenly Father, became established facts in Mormon theology.”
IV. The Mormon concept of man. Mormons view our human life here in this world as a training ground for the work that will continue after death, where faithful souls will continue to create and populate worlds and where they will impart the keys of the knowledge of eternal life to their own spirit children. Mormons hold that “the glory of God is intelligence” and it is no surprise that Mormons place a strong emphasis on education. They believe that persons will take with them to the next life all knowledge and skills that they develop during their mortal life on earth. They have some strange teachings about human nature. Here are a few:
The pre-existence of man’s soul. The Mormon Church teaches that man was a pre-existent spirit and that mankind is of the same species as God. Our origin is supposed to have been as procreated children of God, born as spirits in some other realm. In that “spirit-world” existence we progressed as far as was possible, but to become truly like our heavenly Father we needed to obtain physical bodies. In a Mormon publication titled Evidences and Reconciliations, on page 393, John Widtsoe, a prominent Mormon writer, says, “In the Spirit World are countless numbers of spirits waiting for their descent into mortality, to secure earth bodies as a means of further progress. These unborn spirits desired the best possible parentage. Those assuming plural marriage almost invariable were the finest types in the community.” This explains the early practice of polygamy. Today’s Mormons are quick to tell us: “That was then and this is now” and the church doesn’t sanction polygamy anymore. Two thoughts here: (1) It took them 60 years to stop practicing polygamy (1830–1890), and (2) they believe in “celestial polygamy.” They believe that in eternity a Mormon male, baptized and sealed in the temple and found worthy, will become a god and have many wives and produce spirit-children to populate another planet.
Man can become a god. A Mormon teaching was formed into a couplet by President Lorenzo Snow, which states: “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become.” Think about what you just read: God used to be a man and man has the potential to become a god. This is not an isolated teaching in the Mormon Church. In the aforementioned King Follett Discourse on page 10 it says, “Here, then, is eternal life—to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another . . .”
All mankind will be saved. Apostle John Widtsoe in Evidences and Reconciliations, on page 216, declares, “In The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints, there is no hell. All will find a measure of salvation.” Janis Hutchinson, a former Mormon missionary who found Christ, wrote a most interesting book titled, The Mormon Missionaries. She says, “A member must accept Christ to get into any of their three heavens. But, the third heaven—the highest, called the Celestial Kingdom where only God and Jesus Christ are supposed to dwell—is attainable only by accepting Joseph Smith. Jesus isn’t enough.”
Man has to shed his own blood for his sins. This is perhaps one of the saddest teachings found in Mormonism as it relates to human nature. The biblical teaching on blood atonement is that the shedding of blood is required for forgiveness of sin (Hebrews 9:22). The Bible teaches that the blood of Christ cleanses from “all sin” (1 John 1:7). Early Mormon theology, however, teaches that for certain sins the blood of Christ alone does not avail and the person’s own blood must be shed for atonement. Under the section, “Blood Atonement,” of the book, Mormon Doctrine, LDS Apostle Bruce R. McConkie wrote, “. . . there are some serious sins for which the cleansing of Christ does not operate, and the law of God is that men must then have their own blood shed to atone for their sins.” The tenth Mormon prophet, Joseph Fielding Smith, in Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. I, page 135 says, “Joseph Smith taught that there were certain sins so grievous that man may commit, that they will place the transgression beyond the power of atonement of Christ. If these offenses are committed, then the blood of Christ will not cleanse them from their sins even though they repent. Therefore, their only hope is to have their own blood shed to atone as far as possible in their behalf.” Think back to Gary Gilmore executed by a firing squad in 1977 at Utah State Prison in Draper. Think back to John Albert Taylor executed in Utah in 1996 and Ronnie Lee Gardner executed in Utah in 2010—all by firing squads. The prevailing belief is that in its early history, Utah used a firing squad because it allows one to “shed his own blood.”
V. Christology. Perhaps the worst of all Mormon teachings centers on what they believe about Jesus. This is important because without Jesus we simply cannot be saved. Not Jesus plus the Mormon Church (or any other church!) but Jesus only. He is the way, the truth, and the life and we cannot come to the Father except through Him (John 14:6). Here are some of the unbelievable things they teach about our Lord:
Not begotten of the Holy Ghost. In the Journal of Discourses Vol. I page 51, Brigham Young said, “Now remember from this time forth and forever, that Jesus Christ was not begotten by the Holy Ghost.” In the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 2, p. 725, it says, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints proclaims that Jesus Christ is the Son of God in the most literal sense. The body in which He performed His mission in the flesh was fathered by that same Holy Being we worship as God, our Eternal Father. Jesus was not the son of Joseph, nor was He begotten by the Holy Ghost.”
Spiritual brother of the devil. In Gospel Through the Ages, page 15, Milton Hunter writes, “The appointment was contested by one of the other Sons of God. He was called Lucifer, son of the morning. Haughty, ambitious, and covetous of power and glory, this Spirit-brother of Jesus desperately tried to become the Savior of mankind.”
Jesus began by Adam. Again in Journal of Discourses, Vol. I, page 51 Brigham Young says, “Jesus, our elder brother, was begotten in the flesh, by the same character that was in the Garden of Eden, and who is our Father in heaven.” We know from previous quotes in this article that person was none other than Adam!
Jesus had many wives—He was a polygamist. This is a debatable issue in modern Mormonism but not so in the beginning. The belief that Jesus was married, was a polygamist, and had children through his wives was a well-accepted teaching by 19th Century Mormons. The quote most often read comes from Mormon Apostle Orson Hyde, “I said in my lecture on Marriage, at our last conference, that Jesus Christ was married at Cana of Galilee, that Mary, Martha, and others were his wives, and that he begot children” (Journal of Discourses, 2:210). Orson Pratt in The Seer, page 159 says: “If all the acts of Jesus were written, we no doubt should learn that these beloved women (Mary, Martha, and Mary Magdalene) were His wives.”
So where do we go from here? We must come to the conclusion that the god of the Mormons is not the God of the Bible! We must, as I said in the beginning of this study, realize that Mormons and Christians worship at different altars. Here are a few more “musts”: we must pray for them, we must realize that Jesus died for them, and we must win them to Jesus. Mormonism is not Christian. The people of Mormonism are a mission field and they can be and are being won to Christ.
While LDS theology is what separates Mormonism from orthodox Christianity, it doesn’t mean we can’t witness to and win Mormons to Christ.
Sandra Tanner, 57, co-director of Utah Lighthouse Ministry in Salt Lake City, says, “You join Mormonism because of friendship ties, a sense of belonging, a hope for your deceased family. It is a religion that gives the best of both worlds.” We know that their message is not a biblical message but we can use the desire for friendship and belonging to win them.
Let’s do all we can to help them find the true Prophet—Jesus Christ—our Lord and Savior.
 Doctrines of Salvation by Joseph Fielding Smith Vol. 1, p. 188. Let me add here that many LDS books will be cited. This makes the study of this cult more complicated because the words spoken by their living “prophet” become part of the solid doctrine of the church. Thus, to find out what Mormons really believe one has to search through many journals, books and other publications.
 Joseph Smith, Pearl of Great Price—Joseph Smith History 1:19, (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints), p. 49.
 Jerald and Sandra Tanner have done extensive research on this thought and printed their findings in Mormonism—Shadow or Reality? Read chapter eight, “The First Vision.”
 Marvin Cowan, Mormon Claims Answered, (Salt Lake City: Utah Christian Publications), p. 8.
 Jerald and Sandra Tanner, 3913 Changes in the Book of Mormon, (Salt Lake City: Modern Microfilm Co.).This book is still available at Amazon.com. A quick search on the Internet will bring ample proof that these changes plus many more have been made to the Book of Mormon.
 Many of these errors are discussed by Sandra Tanner at: Utah Lighthouse Ministry, P. O. Box 1884, Salt Lake City, UT. Their website is: www.utlm.org. They have an excellent selection of free online books on false Mormon teachings.
 Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. VI (Liverpool: R. James, 1966) page 3.
 Ibid., p.5.
 Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1979), page. 576-577.
 Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. I (Liverpool: R. James 1966), page 50.
 This famous couplet is taken from one of his poems which appeared in print for the first time in an article written by his son, LeRoi C. Snow, “Devotion to a Divine Inspiration,” Improvement Era, June 1919; 22:656,660. It also was printed in the Millennial Star, Vol. 54. It has caused much trouble for the LDS movement because it is so blasphemous.
 Janis Hutchinson, The Mormon Missionaries: An inside Look at Their Real Message and Methods (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications. 1995) page 70.
By Leonard C. Albert
Nearly every time I lecture on “Witnessing to the Cults” this question comes up: Are people who keep Saturday as the Sabbath a cult? Well, first of all, the answer is maybe—they could be cultists but the determining factor is not which day they go to church—the real issue is what they believe about Jesus. Cultists are people who deny the deity of Christ. Plain and simple. I do believe that they have a false doctrine because, contrary to the gospel of God, these people teach that the law is still binding on Christians today. Teaching “that the law of God is still binding on Christians today” is another gospel, which is really not another, but is a perversion of the gospel of Christ (Galatians 1:6-7). The church in Galatia was troubled by this same false gospel (e.g. Galatians 3:1-3), except for them the focus was circumcision. For the Sabbath keepers, the focus is the Sabbath. Same issue but different subjects.
So the question remains, “What about all of these people who worship on Saturday and want others to as well?” It might be easier for me if the question was restated. Maybe the real question is something like, “Are Christians under obligation to observe a designated Sabbath day?” I don’t think so. I want to look to God’s Word because I think He has given us the answer here.
Religious groups, such as Seventh-day Adventists, still observe a Saturday Sabbath. While SDA is the largest of the groups, they’re not the only ones. There are many groups in this crowd including Baptists and Pentecostals! They are the “Judaisers” who want to create a form of legalistic Judaism, and Saturday worship is usually a centerpiece. Since honoring the Sabbath was part of the original Ten Commandments given by God, they believe it is a permanent, binding command that should not be changed. There are many scriptures which indicate that the whole law and commandments were completely abolished when the New Covenant came into effect. Consider Ephesians 2:15-16: “Having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, (16) and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.” (NKJV). Also, Acts 2:46 tells us that the church in Jerusalem met every day in the temple courts and gathered to break bread together in private homes.
Read what Paul says in Romans 14:5-6 when he talks about our personal freedom regarding the observance of holy days: “In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor him. Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who refuse to eat certain foods also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God.” (NLT).
In Colossians 2:16-17 Christians are instructed not to judge or allow anyone to be their judge regarding Sabbath days: “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” (NIV).
In Galatians 4:8-10, Paul is concerned because Christians are turning back like slaves to legalistic observances of “special” days: “So now that you know God (or should I say, now that God knows you), why do you want to go back again and become slaves once more to the weak and useless spiritual principles of this world? You are trying to earn favor with God by observing certain days or months or seasons or years. (NLT).
The earliest records of the New Testament period show that the first day of the week soon became a day of worship. When Paul wanted to collect an offering from the church at Corinth, he asked them to gather the money on the “first day of the week” (1 Cor. 16:2). And when he wanted to meet with the believers at Troas, the gathering took place “on the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread” (Acts 20:7). In Revelation 1:10, the apostle John described himself as being “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.” Most writers have thought he was referring to Sunday, so that our use of “the Lord’s Day” as a term for Sunday comes from this verse.
Some Thoughts About the Sabbath
First, the meaning of the word. We always hear about “seventh” and “Sabbath” as though they refer to the same word. The words “sabbath” and “seventh” do not come from the same word. The Hebrew word for “sabbath” is “shabbath” (Strong’s #7676 ) and it simply means “rest.” What makes the Sabbath special is not the day of the week but the rest or cessation from work. This rest does not have to be on the seventh day.
Next, it appears from the Bible that Sabbaths were celebrated on different days and for different lengths of time. Leviticus 23: 39 seems to indicate that it was on the first day and the eighth day. “Also on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the land, you shall keep the feast of the Lord for seven days; on the first day there shall be a Sabbath-rest, and on the eighth day a Sabbath-rest.” In Exodus 20:10 it appears to be on the seventh day. “But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates.” (NKJV). In addition, Sabbaths were of different lengths of time. In Exodus 16: 23-29 it was one day long; in Leviticus 23:6-8 it was two days long. In Leviticus 25:4 it was one year long. There is a future Sabbath in the Millennium so that all mankind can come before God to worship (Isaiah. 66:22-24 ; Ezekiel. 44:24 ; 45:17 ; 46:3 ). Scripture does not reveal what particular day will be observed in the future because the particular day is not the issue nor has it ever been the issue.
Thirdly, Constantine and the Pope did not change the Sabbath in 321 and 364 A.D. as is pointed out many times by Sabbath keepers. There is no way to validate this claim in history. In 321 A.D. Constantine made the Christian Sabbath, Sunday, the rest day for the Roman Empire, but it was observed by Christians for nearly 300 years before it became law by Constantine. The early Christian fathers worshipped on Sunday as well.
Lastly, man was not made for Sabbaths, but they were made for him (Matthew 12:8; Mark 2:27-28; Luke 6:5). We are free from the law. In these passages Jesus was pointing out that the Sabbath was made to serve people, instead of people being created to serve the Sabbath. The Sabbath was a servant, not a master. He was addressing the relative importance of the Sabbath, not which specific people were given the Sabbath or the specific day of the Sabbath.
Why Christians Worship on Sunday
1. To celebrate the resurrection and the finished work of Christ in His victory over death, hell, and the grave (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:9; John 20:1).
2. The Lord’s manifestations to His disciples were on Sunday and our Lord Jesus ignored completely the old Jewish Sabbath. The first day is the prominent day after the resurrection (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:9; John 20:1, 19, 26).
3. The outpouring of the Holy Ghost came on Sunday. Pentecost was the first day after seven Jewish Sabbaths (Acts 2:1; Leviticus 23:15-21). Thus, both Christ and the Holy Spirit manifested themselves to the church on this day, completely ignoring the Jewish Sabbath.
4. Neither Christ nor any apostle gave a command to keep the old Jewish Sabbath, or any other day, but did command all people not to be bound by any particular day (Romans 14:5-6, Galatians 5:9-1, Colossians 2:14-17). The day early Christians observed–not by commandment but by choice–was the first day, Sunday (John 20:1, 19, 20:7; 1Corinthians 16:2)
5. Although no set day is commanded to be the Sabbath in the new covenant, as in the old covenant which was abolished, they did keep Sunday as their day of worship (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:9; John 20:1, 19, 26; Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2; Revelation 1:10).
6. The fourth commandment (Sabbath) was the only one not brought into the New Testament. Neither God nor Christ made it a part of the new covenant. One can easily find the other nine but the fourth one is just not in the New Testament. Jesus never once commanded any particular observance of any definite day. In fact He only mentioned the Sabbath four times and when He did talk about it He merely said it was lawful to do good on this day. Its sole purpose was to commemorate the deliverance from Egyptian bondage when Israel had no rest (Deuteronomy 5:15). It was only a type of future and eternal rest (Colossians 2:14-17, Hebrews 4:1-11 10:1).
7. The Sabbath commandment is a ceremonial law NOT a moral law. It is the only commandment that could be and has been broken without breaking a moral law. David and others broke it and were blameless (Matthew 12:2-5). The New Testament permits Christians to keep any day as the Sabbath, it being one of the doubtful things not covered by commandment in the new covenant (Romans 14:1-13 Galatians 4:9-11, Colossians 2:14-17).
In Romans 10:4 the Bible says that “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” The little word “end” is so powerful. The Greek word is “telos.” It means that Jesus is the “aim or purpose” of the law. Christians believe that Jesus came not to negate the law but to complete it—to fulfill it. When Jesus died on the cross he fulfilled the law. Read what Paul said in Ephesians 2:13-15: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace.” Jesus abolished the law of commandments (the Law of Moses which included the command to keep the Sabbath, Exodus 20:8). He abolished it “in His flesh;” that is by His death on the cross (Colossians 2:14-17).
Luke 16:16 says, “The law [including the Ten Commandments] and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it” (KJV). The new contract, which is the New Testament, is now in effect. The teaching of the Bible is plain. The Law of Moses was to the nation of Israel only. It lasted as a binding law until Christ died on the cross. At Pentecost, God’s new contract came into effect and this is God’s plan for all mankind today. From Paul’s writing in Colossians 2:16 it appears that the Bible allows evangelical Christians to worship on Sunday and other groups to worship on Saturday or whatever day they choose. The important thing is to not judge others as they choose their day of worship. The Bible clearly teaches that we are permitted to meet on Sunday, the first day of the week. This is the day upon which our Lord arose from the dead (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2-6; Luke 24:1; John 20:1). The day upon which the church began, Pentecost day, also was on the first day of the week (Leviticus 23:9-16). Therefore, we can see why the Lord chose the first day of the week as the day of worship for Christians.
Personal Closing Observation
These groups all have false doctrine and teachings. The Seventh-day Adventist Church claims, based on the theology of Ellen G. White, that keeping Sunday as a worship day is the mark of the beast. That is just not true. In forty years of street and community visitation I have yet to see any of these groups out there preaching Christ. For that matter I’ve never seen them out there period! It seems their focus is on the perpetuation of their doctrine—not on winning the lost through the proclamation of Christ. It seems to me they are spiritually insecure, that they promote legalism in the church and that they desire control over others by not allowing the freedom to choose as the Bible teaches.
I love John 15:16 where Jesus says, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.” (NKJV).
The word “chosen” means “a select favorite.” Someone said that if God had a refrigerator your picture would be on it. God loves us so much that He has selected us and appointed us to go and bear fruit. Dear ones, we have churches that go an entire year and never lead a soul to Christ. Can you imagine that? One year—no one saved! What is going on in a church that can open its doors for 52 weeks and never see anyone saved? The truth is that God has chosen [selected] us to go and bring forth fruit for Him. I will share some ideas that I am working on that will help up to bring forth that fruit.
This is a simple plan to merge local church small groups with personal evangelism. The primary target group is couples. Other groups such as youth, singles, men or women will also work. The units can be merged if desired (some couples and some singles). We offer a simple equation:
Small Home Groups + Relationships + Ministry = Church Growth
The plan consists of five couples, which will meet in respective homes for five months. Each couple will target five unsaved/unchurched couples to reach for Christ during this time. This monthly couples event would include a fellowship meal, followed by a 20 minute video teaching followed by about 30 minutes of discussion. The evening would conclude with a time of prayer and intercession for the lost and especially the target couples. Take Five would allow for three vital elements: supper—breaking bread together in homes; soul winning—cutting edge teaching and small group interaction on up-to-date methods of reaching the lost; and supplication—sincere prayer for others that are unchurched or unsaved
We would do this in two semesters each year (January – May and August to December) allowing us the potential to reach up to fifty new couples each year. There would eventually be four separate study units: personal evangelism, apologetics, cults and Islam and discipleship
The Gospel in Three Stories: Reaching a post-modern culture
Here we are talking about evangelism training. The message never changes but the methods sure do. It is not longer “is it true?” but “is it real?” We are preparing all new, one-day “power” seminars that are H.O.T.—High on Touch and High on Technology! Our new conferences on training the laity are moving from illustration to animation. Did you hear about the sign of the glass door of a bankrupt bookstore? It said, “Words failed us.” We have to move with the times. We are teaching “relationship” evangelism. We are showing believers the vital importance of loving God and then letting that love spill over to their friends, relatives, associates and neighbors (someone has called this frangelism!). In this new teaching series we learn about three stories: THEIR story (everyone has one!), YOUR story (your testimony) and HIS story (the GOSPEL-God Offers Sinful People Eternal Life). We are taking a new look the challenge of the cults in our nation and world. We are now told that by the second decade of this new century, Islam is expected to replace Judaism as the second largest religious group in this country. We will show new and innovative methods of dealing with the cults and stemming their growth.
Let’s Win the Lost
Every child of God has been commissioned to be a part of a concerted effort to bring the good news of the Gospel to every creature. Once this good news is heard and received, the recipient of God’s free gift of salvation must be discipled so that he, too, is involved with God’s program for every Christian – intense cultivation and abounding fruitfulness. There is no way to escape the responsibility of being a bearer of these glad tidings. In order for this message to go into all the world to every creature, the full mobilization of God’s army is required. The tragedy of the Christian Church today is that the vast majority of Bible believing Christians are too concerned with amassing treasures on earth and padding their bank accounts that they have never taken God’s commission seriously. What is this commission? He has called us to be “ambassadors.”
So many believers today are very much anchored to this world. This fact is apparent when we consider the huge importance given to accumulate worldly treasures and enjoying earthly pleasures. Recently I read the book Radical by Dr. David Platt. This excellent work helps us to refocus our desire on Christ and His commission to reach the harvest. Dr. Platt issues a challenge to all believers who want to get more involved. Perhaps one reason for our lack of involvement in God’s great program of evangelism is that we feel we lack the ability. This can either be a genuine obstacle because we do not feel as talented or able as others, or it can be a cop-out to make us think that because we find it difficult to do certain things, God is going to excuse us.
We can remedy this situation by believing a very simple promise – “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Php. 4:13). This simply means that He has taken the responsibility of enabling you to do that which He has bidden. God will give you many things you cannot do in your own strength; if you could, they wouldn’t be worth much. However, God assures us that He will enable us to do all that He wants us to do – the obedience is our responsibility; the enablement is His!
We can evangelize. We must evangelize.
God has chosen you and me to be partners with Him in this journey. He has “called” us. The word calling in the Bible means “invitation.” We have been invited by the Master to work with Him in ministry. The key to fulfilling this ministry in the church is empowerment. Business gurus have found that empowerment requires three gifts: decision-making power, adequate resources, and the knowledge base from which to work. Spiritually, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to be priests. True empowerment means giving the person with the ministry vision the ARK (Authority, Resources and Knowledge) of empowerment. If there isn’t enough money, we can allow the person to raise funds. If the person doesn’t know where to begin we can facilitate training. Pastor and board committees become coach and coaching staff rather than impediments to be overcome. Trust is the key element to release individuals to empowered ministry. My personal philosophy is “Don’t worry about what’s ahead. Just go as far as you can go — from there you can see farther.” Let’s get busy!
By Leonard C. Albert
Witnessing to the Islamic Community
About 35 years ago I began to teach people how to share their faith in Christ in one-on-one encounters. I soon learned something that has stuck with me through the years: evangelism is more of a process than an event. There are times when we share the gospel story or our personal testimony pertaining to it when we see immediate results. In this case we reap, what I call, a John 4:38 experience where the Bible says, “Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.” The thought is that if we win someone on the first encounter (we seldom do), someone else has probably been praying for them for years witnessing to them, and sharing the gospel. We have come to realize that evangelism usually involves a process of time and takes a lot of prayer, persistence, and divine guidance.
The above is true as we attempt to share our faith with the followers of Mohammad. If you win a Muslim in the first encounter either he or she wasn’t a very good Muslim or someone else had already done the hard work and you were just there at the right time to reap the benefits.
The Challenge That Is Before Us
Following Muhammad’s death, Islam became an evangelistic movement. It quickly conquered North Africa, the Middle East, and central Asia. Islam is the only world religion that has ever dominated and taken over large populations and territories from the Christian church world. A few years ago I was privileged to travel to Turkey, a beautiful country that is 99 percent Muslim. All seven cities mentioned in the Book of Revelation are in this country and it is completely dominated by Islamic rule. Several areas where the apostle Paul preached and planted churches are now under the crescent of Islam.
The Muslim world has been difficult to penetrate with the gospel, but believers who are willing to prepare themselves can find a way to effectively share Christ. Here are some general guidelines.
Show proper respect for human personality. If you examine the way Christ witnessed, you will soon realize that He always showed respect for the culture and the people to whom He communicated. He smashed the social taboos of the day by speaking to the woman at the well. He ministered at the other end of the spectrum by witnessing to Nicodemus, a powerful and wealthy member of the Sanhedrin. Everyone we meet regardless of their social, cultural or ethnic background is worthy of our respect.
Learn to love the people of Islam. This is one trait that will get you through the most difficult encounters. Some time ago I was invited to teach in a weeklong conference on evangelism in London, England. The teaching sessions were scheduled in the morning and each afternoon we went out on the streets and in the communities to meet people and share Christ. Since London is filled with Muslims, it was inevitable that we encounter them as we ministered. That one week helped me to understand more about their culture than all the books I had previously read. These people are serious about their faith! It was a moving experience for me to be speaking to Muslims for over an hour and hear them say with real conviction, “I pray to Allah that you would accept Mohammad as his prophet.” These people are sincere! I did discover, however, that there are pious Muslims as well as lax ones, but the ratio of nominal people in Islam is lower than among Christians. The Muslim clings tenaciously to his confession of faith and repeats it daily. We have to remember that Christ died for them also and He loves them with an everlasting love. We must show them the same passion for the Bible as they do their holy book, the Koran.
Have knowledge about their culture, beliefs and practices. We must have a general working knowledge of church history, the Koran, and some knowledge of the Muslim belief about Christ and Christianity. As we witness to them we should know where they stand in their knowledge about Evangelical Christianity. Here are just a few of the things they think about us and some of what they believe:
- They believe that Jews and Christians have deliberately distorted the Old and New Testaments to hide the predictions of the coming of Muhammad.
- They think we believe in three gods, (This is a great insult to a Muslim as no “other god” can be associated with Allah.)
- They do not believe that it was Jesus who died on the cross—another, such as Judas Iscariot, was crucified in His place.
- To them sin is the failure to live up to the Islamic moral code and the pillars of Islam.
- They do fear hell fire.
- They do believe there is a purgatory.
We must receive empowerment from Christ that will help us demonstrate the power gifts of healing, miracles, signs and wonders. It is interesting to note that most Muslims will respect a visible, tangible, miraculous demonstration of the power of God. They are easily attracted to spiritual vitality. The truth is: they want to see it!—Can the Christian community show it?
How to Share Your Faith With a Muslim
Those who anticipate interaction with Muslims must consider a method of approach. No other faith, not even Judaism, is so resistant to the traditional “confrontational” or “encounter” approach that we find common in personal evangelism today. It will not be effective to just walk up to a Muslim and share the plan of salvation. Terms like sin, salvation and cross that we commonly use in witnessing have an entirely different meaning for them. Since they deny that Jesus ever died on the cross they simply cannot accept our understanding of salvation. Here are some simple steps that will help in the witnessing approach.
- Establish friendship. The Muslim will be impressed with a Christian’s words only if he experiences genuine friendship from the Christian and sees him living a consistent moral life. The goal is to demonstrate to these people the love and quality of life in Christ. It is better to win the Muslim as a friend than to win an argument and lose his friendship. Avoid critical remarks about Muhammad, the Koran, and Islam even if your faith is criticized. Your patience, understanding, and display of friendship can cause the Muslim to be attracted to the Bible and the Christian faith.
- Pray for discernment. Only God can help you share the best possible answer when you talk with Muslims.
- Respect the culture. It will be easier to witness if the Christian shares with his or her own gender. Muslim men are very uncomfortable when approached by a woman because they are taught not to look a woman in the eyes for fear of temptation.
- Seek dialogue. So much of our witnessing is monologue. We were created with two ears and one mouth—learn to use them accordingly! The best evangelistic encounter with a Muslim is when there are plenty of questions asked by both sides. It is our job to listen, be attentive (be able to repeat back what is told to us) and ask plenty of questions to show respect and to get the people to talk about their personal beliefs. A good way to open a dialogue is to ask a Muslim to tell you what his religion is and what he believes.
- Find a witnessing hook. For me, it has been their respect for Moses the prophet and the acceptance of Christ as a prophet. There are four sacred books in their religion: the books of Moses, the Psalms of David (think of how we can use the wonderful prophecies concerning Christ from these Psalms!), the Gospels of Christ, and the Koran. They feel that the Koran is the most accurate because it was the latest revelation. You’ve got to begin somewhere and I think this is a great way to open up the discussion. Focus on the thought and question, “Who is Jesus?” Then begin to explore this concept in the Koran and in the Bible.
- Share your testimony. Nothing will be more effective than for you to share the life-changing, life-transforming power of God in your life. Remember the Muslim mind is one of fatalism—they believe that whatever Allah wills will be. Not so with our God! Through your testimony, you can relate the power of God to change the course of events and give you peace, real joy and assurance of eternal life (three things that they do not have). Keep in mind that Muslims are very serious about visions and dreams. If you have had a genuine vision or dream from the Lord don’t be timid about sharing it as it can be the means of attracting that person to the Bible and Christianity.
Share the message of Christ. There is absolutely no substitute for the presentation of the gospel.
- Share what God thinks of them. The concept of God as a loving heavenly Father is completely foreign to Muslims. Show them from the Scriptures just how much God loves all people. Share Jeremiah 31:3 where God says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” Also share the golden text of the Bible, John 3:16—it still works!
- Tell them the condition of man. Explain the true meaning of sin in the sense that it is “missing the mark.” It is a failure to live up to God’s perfect standard as found in Matthew 5:48: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Show that we, as humans, cannot save ourselves. We need divine help.
- Show them God’s plan for our freedom. There is hope in Christ. We have to help them see that it was indeed Christ who died on the cross. But our hope is in the fact that He rose from the dead. The resurrection of Christ is the best way to show His power over sin. I recommend the book, More Than a Carpenter by Josh McDowell, because it explains the deity of Christ in a simple, easy-to-understand style. We must show our friends that only through our blessed Savior can sins be forgiven. Show that God has provided a way whereby all sin can be forgiven, and every trace of guilt can be completely removed.
- Help them make a commitment. This is where you will learn that it takes time to win a Muslim convert. You have to realize that in an Islamic society, there is no separation of church and state. The law of the Koran is the rule of all citizens and to convert to another relation is an act of treason. Therefore, this will be a big step for Muslim believers. Explain that Christianity is not a religion but a relationship through Christ whereby we can know our heavenly Father. Prospects must realize that Christ alone fills the void in their hearts and brings them into relationship with God.
Be patient. Remember we said it is a process and not an event. The Muslim has no cultural concept for the gospel. For this reason, we should not become discouraged if there is no immediate response. Be patient with your Muslim friend. Continue to share the gospel with prayer and faith, knowing that the Holy Spirit can make the truth real to him. Through the years of my teaching evangelism, I have always relied upon the powerful truth of John 16:8 that says, “When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.” Our job is to share. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to convict and convince people of sin.
Follow up for the Muslim
As I write this material I can’t help but realize that when a Muslim decides to follow Jesus Christ that this is really the beginning of our work. I think a key word here is community. We have to rely on the body of Christ to come together and help disciple converts from Islam. The church must be ready to receive and nurture them. Immediately, we must involve the person in a basic Bible study. We should be aware of the convert’s family situation. He should be encouraged to discreetly witness to his family by sharing his new discoveries in the Bible. A visit to his home would be a good idea at this point. The goal is to make friends with his family. Also, at every opportunity you must pray with and for the new convert. Also, you must teach him to pray using the Lord’s prayer as a model. Lastly, you must encourage the new convert to become a part of a fellowship that will nurture his spiritual growth.
Most of the Muslims today claim a spiritual heritage from Ishmael. It is interesting to note that the name Ishmael is derived from the same root word as Samuel and means that God hears or God answers. God has heard! He promised that He would make Ishmael a great nation. He has kept that promise! These people are part of God’s plan for these last days. They are being won to Christ by the thousands! If we are not careful, we can slip into the false thinking that they will not respond to the gospel and will not come to Christ. Such is not the case. Thousands of Muslims are becoming believers daily all over the world. May the power of the Holy Spirit cause us to have the initiative, the willingness, the knowledge and the opportunity to share Christ with them wherever and whenever we meet them.
For Further Study
If you would like to go a little deeper with the study of Islam and learn how to be better prepared to share Christ with the followers of Islam please order our informative and powerful book titled ”Reaching the Spiritual Children of Ishmael.” Click this link to order:
“Why,” a 76-year-old woman was asked, “are you seeking therapy at your age?” Reflecting on both her losses and her hopes, she answered, “Doctor, all I’ve got left is my future.”
Can you feel the force of that statement? All I’ve got left is my future! Well, think about it. Our interest should be in the future because we’re going to spend the rest of our life there. We have to be connected to the past but committed to what’s ahead. If all we do is look back it’s like the result of driving while looking in a rear view mirror: we’re headed for a body shop! If our vision is fixed on where we’ve been we risk a severe collision with the future! One writer said it this way: Your windshield is bigger than your rearview mirror! Yogi Berra that great “baseball philosopher” also said it in his unique way: If you don’t know where you are going when you get there you will be lost. Like it or not, the future is upon us! My goal in this article is to help you see where we are now and where we are headed with personal evangelism training. I am very much aware of strategic planning but what about strategic thinking? It must come first. So here is some of my thinking.
Here’s What We Know
The only thing constant is change. More has changed in the past 50 years than in the past 500 years put together. Recently, I was on an airplane seated by a senior vice-president of IBM. This guy was one of the very top-level executives (he told me he usually has the corporate jet flying him to his various meetings around the world). He said, “Every 18 months IBM has to completely re-invent itself in order to keep up with the competition.” Why can’t the church do that? We have to know where we are and decide where we are going and we have to re-evaluate the process on a regular basis.
The most meaningful change takes place in the context of relationships. Relationships are the “glue” that hold people and programs together. Without real and deep relationships, the laity and leadership will feel no sense of community with one another. If we only call people together to “do” there will be no glue to hold them together when the planned event is over. Events attract people, relationships make them stick.
We cannot continue with “business as usual.” If we don’t move with the times we will die. What works today may not work tomorrow. I have always wondered why my suit coat had buttons on the sleeves. Well, I discovered one day that those buttons were originally used to attach ruffles to the sleeves, as these ruffles were not permanent attachments to the garment. They were simply an “additive” which went out of style. The Church has its buttons, too! They are programs, organizations, methods, and styles—still being employed long after their purposes are forgotten and their functions outlived. We must take a close look at our church’s “coat sleeves” so we can determine the difference between a permanent attachment and an additive which can go out of style.
Here’s Where We Are Going
We know that if we don’t have a vision for the future, then our future is threatened to be a repeat of the past. I heard it said this way, “If you always do what you always did, you always get what you always got.” Our approach will be preactive and proactive. In the preactive stage we are planning for our future—designing the strategy and in the proactive stage we’re making our plan come true—we’re going to make it happen. Here are just a few of our strategic plans:
Laity Alive. A refreshing “new from the ground up” comprehensive strategy targeted for the local church. It involves consultation, planning, training and materials with the purpose of putting laity in ministry in the local church. The goal of Laity Alive is to set up a functioning lay ministry program that includes small groups, team ministry and personal evangelism in the local church through:
- Consultation and pre-planning: On-site visit(s) by qualified ministry personnel
- Education and motivation: The best books, videos and tapes available and special teaching events
- Training and coaching: “Hands on” personal involvement through actual participation
- Implementation and follow-through: Formation of “ministry groups” both inside and outside the local church
The “big idea” is to truly mobilize the laity on the local level and put in place qualified lay leaders who will know how to minister in today’s society. We believe that this new concept will become our “umbrella” covering and that all of our ministries will stem from it. The potential is awesome!
Personal Evangelism Training. The message never changes but the methods sure do. It is not longer “is it true?” but “is it real?” We are preparing all new, one-day “power” seminars that are H.O.T.—High on Touch and High on Technology! Our new conferences on training the laity are moving from illustration to animation. Did you hear about the sign of the glass door of a bankrupt bookstore? It said, “Words failed us.” We have to move with the times. We are teaching “relationship” evangelism. We are showing believers the vital importance of loving God and then letting that love spill over to their friends, relatives, associates and neighbors (someone has called this frangelism!). We are taking a new look the challenge of the cults in our nation and world. We are now told that by the second decade of this new century, Islam is expected to replace Judaism as the second largest religious group in this country. We will show new and innovative methods of dealing with the cults and stemming their growth.
Reach the “de-churched” and Win the Lost. We live in a society where, according to pollster George Barna, 85% of all non-churched adults have had a previous, prolonged period of time during which they attended a church. He calls them the “de-churched.” We must set our sights on reaching them and getting them back into the ministry and outreach of the local church. We want to be a part of a denomination that has as its focus reaching the lost. Consider our WIN Challenge effort. Did you know that last year the Church of God signed up 3,074 churches in America and thousands of others around the world who committed themselves to reach the lost in their communities? In the first eight months of 2000 these congregations came together and won 1,162,477 people to Jesus! It is mind boggling to consider what can happen when we all come together to win the lost.
Here’s How We’re Going to Get There
We are willing to take more chances with the future. We will not limit ourselves to the present. We will think “outside” the box. We will not be afraid to make mistakes, listen to others and take our “cues” from those laity who are on the cutting edge and live in the “real world.” We will treat each task as if it is the most important we’ve ever had. We will build a better and bigger network of friends and try to never let them down. Here are some of the new ways we will do all of this.
Resources vs. authority. We exist to serve and resource the local church. Our desire is to come alongside the pastor and local church leaders and assist them in reaching their goals. We will do this with great teaching and training conferences and up-to-date resources.
Purpose driven vs. event driven. A purpose statement provides focus and direction. Too often, local church lay ministry has been driven by events rather than purpose. We schedule events (hundreds of them!) and before long the laity perceive that events are the ministry. There must be a larger purpose to the events. We want God’s people to make memories as a result of working together rather than just attend meetings. This is what shapes the life of a church.
Involvement vs. talk. Have you ever heard this statement: Tell me, and I will forget; show me, and I many not remember; involve me, and I will understand. We give “O.J.T.” (on the job training). We are providing opportunities for people to not only learn how to witness and share their faith but also to actually get out into the neighborhoods and meet the community. All of our training seminars are E.P.I.C.—experiential, participatory, interactive and communal.
Printed page vs. virtual reality. Leonard Sweet in his book Soul Tsunami says, “When a church sets out to construct a Web site ministry, it is actually building a postmodern cathedral.” Who knows where the Internet will take us? It is going to be an unavoidable force that we must use if we are to reach people (saved and unsaved!). We are putting time and money into developing the finest Internet resource available for teaching and training laity. We are planning a “virtual” Soul Winners Internet University where anyone can take online courses, browse our bookstore, talk with us in a “real time” classroom and do a host of other things right from their home or church computers. Did you know that already 16% of teenagers are claiming that they expect to find an online substitute for church within in the next five years? We want to be ready.
Make disciples vs. make workers. The Bible doesn’t call us to make “workers,” but “disciples.” Our goal is to make disciples and help them to reproduce themselves in others. People don’t enjoy being made to go on a “forced march.” True disciples will become workers out of the overflow of their growing relationship with Jesus Christ.
“Word from on high” vs. A.R.K. The key to vital lay ministry in the church is empowerment. Business gurus have found that empowerment requires three gifts: decision-making power, adequate resources, and the knowledge base from which to work. Spiritually, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to be priests. True empowerment means giving the person with the ministry vision the ARK (Authority, Resources and Knowledge) of empowerment. If there isn’t enough money, we can allow the person to raise funds. If the person doesn’t know where to begin we can facilitate training. Pastor and board committees become coach and coaching staff rather than impediments to be overcome. Trust is the key element to release individuals to empowered ministry.
The future awaits us, a future which will not tolerate yesterday’s Church in today’s world, let alone the world of tomorrow. This is an hour of challenge—and of promise.
Any time we’re tempted to think that we can’t go any farther we should stop and remember a certain commissioner of the U.S. Patent Office. In 1895 he proposed to Congress that the patent office be closed because all the great inventions had already been discovered. There’s a whole lot more out there! My personal philosophy is “Don’t worry about what’s ahead. Just go as far as you can go — from there you can see farther.”
And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth (Joel 2:28-30 NIV).
A Vision for Ministry
As Pentecostals, today is our time to see the visions, to dream the dreams and to prophesy as God’s Holy Spirit is poured out upon us. What is God’s vision for His church? I believe that as the “laos of God” (His people) we must move toward a ministry for every believer. From the time I accepted Christ I have had a personal desire to make my life count for Him. I want to make a difference in my neighborhood, my community and my world. As a layman, I face the reality that I am not “called to preach” in the traditional way but I am still to be God’s ambassadors and minister.
I think it is time to stop talking about what we ought to do and just go do it! We must open the doors of our churches and go out [instead of just gather in] for ministry and service. I’ve often thought of how great it would be if every church declared a moratorium on meetings and sent the people out equipped and prepared to offer Christ to the world. What do you think would happen? Just think about it! Spirit-filled believers dispersed for mission and ministry into the highways and byways of our world! This will never happen if we just sit in our churches waiting for the world to come to us. A pastor told me just recently that before year’s end he is gathering the people for the traditional Sunday morning worship service. But rather than the usual “in house” service, he is asking his church to take the “service” to the community by visiting the lonely, the hurting, the sick and the impoverished. He is going to take them all out visiting on Sunday morning. What an idea!
What I just described above is a good example of the cooperative effort that must take place between the pastor and the congregation. We must become partners in ministry. What does this mean? It means a place for service and ministry for everyone. It is more than just doing a few church tasks. It is an attitude, an ethos, something that flows out through all believers in the church. If the laity of the church become true partners in ministry with the clergy the result will be ministry that will be shared between them.
A Vision for the Local Church and Staff Leaders
The church can become a saving station—a place where love abides and all people can find salvation, healing, holiness and safety. Many times when I am doing a church ministry conference I will ask the question, “Are you willing to accept whomever God sends through the doors of your church?” Our local congregations must be a station of fellowship where all people feel included, loved, and valued.
Next, the church can become an empowering station—a place where vital and exciting opportunities for worship and learning are offered. The “empowering” church disciples and trains its members. It will have programs of ministry for the young, old, men, women, boys, girls, married, and singles—all God’s children.
Next, the church can become an equipping and sending station—a place where we equip people for ministry and send them out into the community and world for mission and ministry. Equipping the saints for ministry is one of our most challenging tasks. Every church should have an evangelism leadership team—people who are dedicated, who have caught the vision, and are capable of teaching others in evangelism.
Lastly, the church can become a community outreach station—a place where programs are offered for youth groups, men’s ministry, women’s groups, community agencies, recovery groups, and assistance for those with immediate survival needs. This “community outreach” church cares about the community in which it lives.
Habakkuk stood at his watch post and here is what God told him:
Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. (Habakkuk 2:2-3 NIV)
We are given this time and this vision—and we should write it in big bold letters. Lift it high for the entire world to see! Let us claim the vision and lift high the cross together, as partners in ministry.
I only joke about this but follow my thinking for minute. Peter was a premier preacher in the New Testament. After Pentecost, he preached and 3,000 people got saved in one service. Now that’s preaching! Do you remember Stephen in Acts 7? He was a layman and when he preached, they stoned him! “And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” (Acts 7:59). Well, that’s some of my humor. I tell everybody that if I try to preach, I’ll get stoned! I know the real truth—I know that God is using both laity and clergy to fulfill the Great Commission. I know that He has given me a calling in life to join up with Him in the pursuit of winning the lost. But I am still scared! Why? It’s a big world out there and when I realize that God has called me, as a layman, to preach and minister it is frightening. Let’s talk about that call.
Who’s An Ordained Plumber?
All laity are called and this calling includes preaching. Probably the greatest coup d’état that the devil ever pulled upon the church could be titled, “But I’m just a layman.” When we look at the first century church we find that the laity preached. Stephen preached in Acts 7. Acts 8:4 says, “they [the laity] that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.” Philip (a layman) in Acts 8:35 “ … opened his mouth, and … preached unto him Jesus.” In the early church everyone was a minister. In just 300 years the church accomplished the most amazing results. The whole Roman Empire was undercut and overthrown by the power of the Gospel of Christ. In fact, the pagan Celsius wrote a book against Christians in the second century and admitted that it was the “wool-workers, cobblers, laundry workers and the most illiterate and bucolic yokels” who carried the gospel. Who was he referring to? The laity! The devil would make us believe that only preachers are called. But I would like to sink a dagger into that lie because our pulpits are everywhere—coffee tables, work tables, gas pumps, office desks. Every Christian occupies some kind of pulpit and preaches some kind of sermon every day. Someone asked one of our laymen if he was called and he replied, “Certainly, I’m an ordained plumber!”
We are ministers.
We are never told that Stephen ever did one thing his position as deacon demanded, but he did extremely well in what his mission demanded. Long before Stephen had a position, he had a mission. In fact, the word “minister” is the translation of the Greek word diakonia, which means “servant.” Thus, a minister can be a deacon who is a servant. Ananias (a layman) was a servant like this. He laid hands on Saul in Acts 9 both healing and commissioning him. Aquila and Priscilla were lay missionaries in Acts 18. The Bible clearly indicates that the work of the church is not solely the responsibility of the pastor—it is for all believers. Originally, the word “minister” was a function of the church. It was a verb—something we did. It was the assignment of all believers and each follower had his own ministry or ministries. Slowly, through the centuries, it has moved from being a function of the church to become a station in the church. Ministry is a function for all, not a station for a few.
We are gifted.
In Acts 6:8 we read, “And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.” For many years I have pondered this scripture. What were those “wonders and miracles” that he performed? Here is a layman performing “wonders and miracles.” I have asked God to help me do the same. I believe that every Christian is called of God as a minister and gifted for ministry. Peter says it best in 1 Peter 4:10, “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” Stewards of His grace? Have you ever thought of that? Think it through. We (all of God’s people) have received a gift (or gifts) and we are to minister that gift! How do we find our gift? Ask these simple questions:
- What do you see? So many people are waiting for a mystical call from God while all around them work is to be done. If no call seems obvious, then do the obvious! Is there a class with no teacher, a jail with no volunteers, or a nursing home with no church service? Get busy!
- What do you do? Can you teach, sing, or play a musical instrument? If you are good at it, do it!
- What do you enjoy? There was a time when we thought that if we enjoyed doing something, it was wrong. What you love to do is a clue to your anointing.
- What do you feel? What burdens you? What hurts you when you see it? Help heal those hurts.
- What you do hear? What do others say about you? You can expect affirmation from the body of Christ as to the reality of the gift of God within you.
God has called us to do more than pray, pay and obey. There’s a new reformation coming. It is a second reformation—a reforming of the priesthood of all believers. This second reformation will take place when the ministry is in the hand of all of God’s people. If we understand, accept, and act on the doctrine of the laity, it will bring about a reformation such as the world has not seen since Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the church at Wittenburg in 1517. My prayer is that the laity like me will realize that they too are called of God and begin to get more involved in personal evangelism.
Let’s get busy but keep an eye out for those stones!