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Saturday, 26 November 2016

The Way of the Master?



I stumbled upon a book this week, The Way of the Master by Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron. They run an organisation by the same name and another called Living Waters. They have produced a number of almost feature length films covering controversial topics, these can be watched on their website or on Youtube at no cost. The most recent is called The Atheist Delusion. Both organisations are committed to biblical evangelism.

They state that the modern Western church has lost its way. That due to an over-emphasis on grace and the love of God our churches are full of false converts. These people have been told that God has a wonderful plan for their lives and that all they need to do is to pray a prayer, sign a card or make a decision to accept Jesus and be restored to God. The majority then continue their lives exactly as before but now with the “saved by Jesus” or "born again" label. There was no repentance and therefore there is no visible change in their behaviour. 

When trials and suffering come to these people they lose interest in their faith or become angry and disillusioned with God for their plight. They question the “wonderful plan” they were offered and blame God for their circumstances. They then either gradually fall into sin believing that God will forgive them later as life is just too hard and God is not delivering what He has promised. Or they harden their hearts and walk away from the faith, They are thus in a worse position than they were  in the first place. They have now rejected God completely and are resentful and bitter towards Him if they still acknowledge His existence.

You may be thinking that these observations are not new and that other well-known preachers and authors (John MacArthur) have been highlighting “easy believism” and other mass conversion methods for years. 

Comfort, however, offers a solution. He suggests that the only way for someone to be soundly converted is to first confront them with the law and then outline God’s plan of salvation through Jesus. He believes that the only way to do this is by using the Ten Commandments to make a person realise that they are a wretched sinner before a Holy God.  A person needs to admit that they are a liar, thief and adulterer at heart amongst other things. Then they will understand that God’s wrath is upon them and will therefore desire to escape from the penalty of their sin which is ultimately eternity in hell.

It is only once they have acknowledged their sin that Jesus’ death is offered as the solution. The point is that unless someone realises the danger they are in they are not going to take action to ensure their personal safety. Comfort uses the analogy of a blind man walking towards the edge of a cliff. Someone comes up to him and tweaks the MP3 player he is carrying to enhance the sound so he can enjoy his journey. He is thrilled and merrily continues towards the cliff edge, presumably falling to his death. This is what we are doing when we focus on people’s immediate physical needs, comfort and wellbeing rather than their eternal destination.

At first I thought, wow what a great resource and method for evangelism. I watched all the movies on the website and looked at ordering tracts. But, I was curious and decided to research what others were saying about Comfort’s ministry—that was an eye opener! It seems Comfort is like Marmite, you either love him or you hate him. 

I expected that, to some degree, due to the controversial issues he tackles. I would’ve been more concerned if he didn’t have his critics. But, some of the comments were coming from Christian sources that I respected. 

The main two concerns were that the Ten Commandments were not designed to be used in this way for evangelism as we are now living under the New Covenant. Also, that a “one size fits all” or method approach for evangelism doesn’t allow sufficient room for the Spirit to lead and guide a believer when witnessing. That each person is an individual and should be ministered to as such. 

In relation to the first issue I can see the concern. In Comfort’s book, he goes to great lengths to explain the significance of the Ten Commandments themselves overlooking the fact that they were originally given to the Israelite nation and not to the gentiles. However, for those who think I am suggesting that the commandments don’t apply to us today--ALL, except one, of the Ten Commandments is actually repeated and confirmed in the New Testament and therefore does apply to NT believers. (The Sabbath Day command is the exception and has little relevance to this discussion about biblical evangelism.)

The question that naturally arises is, why place so much emphasis on the Ten Commandments as given to Moses when we can use the NT with its wider scope and more relevant application for today? That would avoid the common argument that we are not living under the Old Covenant and that therefore the rules don’t apply.   

Critics of Comfort’s approach argue that the use of the Ten Commandments is too narrow and excludes other effective methods. Also, that he is telling people that they will be judged according to their adherence to the Ten Commandments alone. They point out that the bigger offence is the rejection of God and of Jesus as their Saviour from their sin. The greatest commandment given by Jesus Himself is after all, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.” (Matthew 22 vs 37)

Honestly, this is a tough one for me. There are people arguing that scaring or terrifying people about hell is not effective or loving. But personally, it was sufficient to convert me and cause me to give up my worldly life. I'm not sure whether the goodness of God alone would've had the same effect. Convincing people that hell is a real place and that their sins will take them there forever is important. I can see Comfort’s rationale in this respect. I can also see that he has a genuine love for the lost and desire for them to be truly saved.

If there is a choice between the shallow and false conversions we are seeing everywhere today and Comfort’s approach, I would definitely side with Comfort. Actually, the videos that had the biggest impact on me were those of the large numbers of people who claimed they were born again/evangelical Christians cheerfully admitting lying, stealing, pre-marital sex, pornography, drunkenness, drug taking etc. The shocking thing was that these “Christians” felt no shame or guilt about their lifestyles and didn’t even acknowledge that these things were wrong. The main reason given was that everyone else was doing it. They weren’t giving into temptation and repenting and trying again. They were completely unconcerned and apathetic. They were false converts filling the churches on Sundays.

Having said that, I don’t agree with a standardised or method approach that must always be used in evangelism. I have used lots of methods over the years and I think it’s important to really hear the heart of the other person. Sin must be confronted in every Gospel conversation and the Good News about Jesus offered. It is necessary for a person to understand what they are being saved from and how serious their sin is in God’s eyes. I like the way Comfort talks about a change of perspective reminding us that it is our own sin that takes us to hell. He speaks about how ridiculous it is for millions of tiny people (in comparison to God) walking around on the earth shaking their fists at their Creator as if that will change reality.

I would highly recommend the resources on Comfort’s website, Way of the Master, as I believe they will make people think. I admire him for tackling controversial issues that others have avoided. There is no doubt that his work has done a lot of good in the American church. But, personally I would use New Testament texts where possible in evangelism and ensure that the biggest sin of all—rejection of God—is highlighted in any presentation.