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Dare We Assume?

  

It has happened almost every Sunday. There is a fresh face in church and we rejoice to see them. We begin to embrace them as newfound a brother or sister in Christ and speaking to them as if they have been a Christian in a worldly body there whole life. WE invite them to the the next social event and if they liked the teaching. This might happen at a home fellowship, church or social function. What basis do we have to treat people this way? Why do we assume that people have heard, received and accepted gospel because they are at church? This attitude of “repentance assumed” was pointed out to me recently and its wasn’t a new or profound idea, but it did stir up concern. I think its very dangerous and bizarre to treat people this way.

We have people with a disease who have walked into the health food store and we assume they know what they are doing because they are in the right place. We are the employees, not only is it our job to point them in the right direction, there is a heftier weight of the fact that these people need our help, and if we don’t do our job, these people will get sicker and likely die, and we deserve to be fired, much more so if we don’t want to do our job. Furthermore i think we would be doing a lousy job if we think the way to help people is to assume they know what they are doing. We should talk to people about the basic tenants of Christianity and what it means to be a Christian, That is (to my understanding) confession of Jesus as lord, repentance, baptism, receiving the spirit, holy living and then moving on from there.

  • Do we do this?
  • Is this unreasonable?
  • Should this be done with the fresh faces we see?
  • Did I forget anything?

22 Responses to “Dare We Assume?”

  1. on 20 Oct 2007 at 9:07 amJohn Paul

    Sometime around writing this article, I had run a fellowship with 2 new members in it. I run my fellowship as usually with my teaching and brief discussion, speaking to them as people who were already Christians.

    But I saw that the 2 new people were not with it. What was going on was not sinking in (maybe it was my teaching style?)

    So I decided that afterwards, me and another young woman in the fellowship would individually speak to one of the 2 new people and ask if they have, or are ready to repent.

    When speaking to the young man, I had found out that the reason he was there was to pursue one of the young women there. He was not really interested at all in living a holy life or what Jesus has to say even though he was involved in the discussion. I could have assumed from his participation that he was a serious Christian. He said he lived like hell, and was not interested in changing.

    When speaking to the young woman, she also said she hadn’t repented, she knew she had to change and I think even thanked the other young woman for telling her and showing her what she needed to do with her life.

    This policy of Repentance assumed could have allowed a wolf to remain in our midst, and a young woman to wait to long to get the oil for the candle. Instead, the Gospel was preached.

  2. on 20 Oct 2007 at 9:52 amSean

    There is within us a latent assumption that because somebody is in the church building or at a home fellowship that they are saved. But this is just as absurd as thinking that because a sick person got to a hospital they are healed. However, the one main difference between these two analogies is that people in a hospital easily distinguish between the staff and the patient. Usually patients have a little wrist band (or are lying in a bed). However, in the church things are invisible. We do not put ppl through a test at the door to see if they had understand and responded with repentance to the gospel of the kingdom. So…we need to take measures, proper measures to insure that we are able to help the spiritually ill. We need to repeat this exercise that John Paul just outlined all over the world in our meetings. We need to TALK to the new person and find out where he or she is at. This one simple step is rarely done (I’ll speak for myself here). It is more often that I’m inclined to make them feel comfortable by making small talk about unimportant issues. But, this is absurd, I shouldn’t be blabbering on about this or that, we have the cure, they may very well be terminally ill, I need to find out where they are at and then offer the cure. You have convicted me on this, brother, and I thank you.

  3. on 20 Oct 2007 at 10:51 amDustin

    Well, we use baptism to know if they have “commited” to the faith. I understand that this is not easy for some groups. but we have the problem of wondering why some bapt’ed members are becoming less and less active.

    Dustin

  4. on 21 Oct 2007 at 7:43 amWolfgang

    Hi Dustin, and all

    interesting observation …. I would tend to think that using baptism (by that, I suppose you mean a water baptism ritual/ceremony?) is not really a help to know what others believe and how their status is with God since such outward ritual is obviously no guarantee for a person’s repentance and faith in Christ …

    Also, perhaps there is a misunderstanding as well as a wrong assumption if we are to sort of equate “being actively involved in the church group one attends” with “being a Christian” … and “not being actively involved in group activities” as “is possibly not really a Christian” …

    What is so wrong in having a newcomer join a fellowship and checking things in our group out first before taking any further steps toward getting involved with Christianity?
    Who says we should be “hitting a newcomer over the head” immediately with “are you saved? have you repented of your sins? have you been water immersed? … because if not, we better make arrangements right now for you to do so, or else we can’t have you here anymore …:”

    Cheers,
    Wolfgang

    PS: I’ve known someone who underwent a water baptism ritual, to satisfy the group leaders’ established doctrinal point as regards continued fellowship in that particular group …. as he explained to me “It was like Rom 14 and the eating meat matter and dealing with another person’s conscience and not wanting to be a stumbling block, etc” . In other words, being a Christian and living like one did not have much to do with submerging in water or being sprinkled … but the man accomodated the group’s leadership’s current beliefs (just as he would have eaten no meat if that had been a command by those men) …

  5. on 21 Oct 2007 at 9:34 amJohn Paul

    Wolfgang,
    I believe what Dustin was saying about baptism was that it is a symbol of repentance. The point of water baptism is not to just “fulfill a ritualistic requirement because it says so in the bible.” But it a sign or covenant if you will, on your part of your commitment to repent, die to yourself, to now live with Christ as your lord, and receive the holy spirit.
    Unfortunately it isn’t like that all the time, and it has become a ritual (especially with infants) and I think everybody knows that it is no guarantee that the person is going to be committed. However, if its done right, its an excellent sign that at one point in there life, they committed to Christ.

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with somebody “checking out christianity,” but that person should not be treated like a christian if that is what they are doing. I know of one instance where someone was “checking out christianity” when he was really checking out the girls(different incident than the story I told before) and when he was asked to repent (in general, not only because the girl thing) he left. I don’t think anybody is purposing that we tell these people not to come anymore if they aren’t saved yet, haven’t repented, or been baptized. Whats being purposed is that the Gospel is preached to those who haven’t done so. (Isn’t that one of our jobs?)

    Dustin,
    im not sure if I understand what you said about your baptized members being less active. Surly you don’t believe that because they are baptized they are going remain faithful? I think those people should be appealed to as christians if indeed at one point they were. The point of my post was about new people within the church.
    (well maybe to some old people in the church who might still not be christians)

  6. on 21 Oct 2007 at 12:01 pmWolfgang

    Hi John Paul

    you metnioned above:

    But it a sign or covenant if you will, on your part of your commitment to repent, die to yourself, to now live with Christ as your lord, and receive the holy spirit.

    qute obviously this is not necessarily true …
    As we both know and have indicated that there are people who have been baptized and yet even after a brief period of time change groups, forsaje assemblies, become desinterested, etc etc …. and I also know of people who have shown more commitment, remained true to their covenant commitment, etc and live accordingly without ever having been immersed in water …

    As for treating people appropriately, I agree with you that preaching and teaching the gospel and encouragement to live a holy life accordingly, is what should happen ….some earlier comments seemed to indicate that it was appropriate “to hit people over the head” in confrontational manners. As for “checking out the girls”, I was not talking about a person checking out the girls but checking out Christianity (in other words, checking out what is bring done in that fellowship and claimed to be Christianity) … on the other hand, folks wanting to check out girls should get their appropriate treatment from the girls rather than the fellowship coordinator (unless they behave unseemly in the fellowship), or is it now fellowship folks’ business to be the “policemen” and hinder boys wanting to get to know a girl as long as such is done in decent and orderly fashion? I initially got interested in the Bible and Christianity because I accompanied a girl to fellowship, even though I was most definitely not interested first and foremost in the Bible etc Had I been bombared with “repent, fellow, you are here because of the Word and the gospel not because of a girl!” I would have laughed my head off at such stupidity that was called “Christianity” and gladly said “goodbye, folks …. be happy with your sectarian clique” ….

    Cheers,
    Wolfgang

  7. on 21 Oct 2007 at 1:59 pmJohn Paul

    qute obviously this is not necessarily true …
    As we both know and have indicated that there are people who have been baptized and yet even after a brief period of time change groups, forsaje assemblies, become desinterested, etc etc ….

    Just because someone broke the covenant, does not mean the ritual of the covenant is invalid.

    and I also know of people who have shown more commitment, remained true to their covenant commitment, etc and live accordingly without ever having been immersed in water …

    and just because someone was able to do it without this ritual doesn’t not take away from the validity of that ritual. (whether or not they are disobey Christ by not following this ritual aside)

    Where did you get the impression that hitting people over the Head was appropriate?

    Sorry about merging the figurative person checking out Christianity with the example of the Guy checking out the girls. it wasn’t my intent to equate the two. (my proofreading should go beyond spellchecking I guess) In that particular instance, they guy was doing both.

    This maybe a throw back to chivalry, but I don’t think women should have to deal with such men. Not really act as policemen but more as older brothers. Yes, if you want to approach my sister, you and I are going to have to have a little talk first, especially if I dont know you to be a believer.

  8. on 21 Oct 2007 at 4:14 pmDustin

    JP-

    Our church knows who all is baptized and who isint. The unbaptized [visitors] are not members, as according to Acts 2:41 and Gal. 3:27.

    Those who are baptized now have the ability to vote during the semi-annual congregational meetings, hold office as elders, teach classes. etc.

    This is the only form of checks and balances we have to know for sure that they agree with the doctrines that we hold to as truth. You dont just want anybody teaching your kids in Sunday School.

    Yet, people seem to be content with their baptism and often grow soft on their Christianity as time goes on. They get a little too comfertable and no longer are “striving to enter through the narrow door.” My job, I guess, is to preach sermons that get people up and moving again.

    We try to incorperate the members into active service at the church. For example, it takes 24 people to run the Sunday service. That is about 25% of our Sunday attendance. When people are active, we see one way that they are taking ownership in their faith and making it their own. Jesus also said “blessed are those whom he finds doing when he returns.”

    Dustin

  9. on 21 Oct 2007 at 9:09 pmJohnO

    Wolfgang,

    It seems that you are uneasy with repentance. Why? And if you are not, why are you uneasy with an act that by definition of John the Baptist and Jesus himself signifies repentance?

  10. on 22 Oct 2007 at 12:33 amWolfgang

    Hi John O.,

    you assume a lot, John. “uneasy with repentance? I am rather “uneasy” with people’s understanding if it doesn’t seem to fit with the scope and context of the Scriptures ….

    As for understanding the water baptism ritual involved with John the baptist’s preaching, I do no longer live in the time of preparation for the coming one … has the one whom John preached not already come (cp. Acts 19, and what Paul already taught only a few decades after John’s ministry those at Ephesus who had only known John’s baptism ) …

    As for Jesus himself signifying repentance …. where did Jesus need to repent? where did he undergo a ritual signifying repentance? It seems to me that many folks are having a wrong impression of what happened when Jesus came to John to be washed in order to fulfill all righteousness … and they mistakenly interpret this as Jesus giving them an example of water baptism for repentance because (a) they follow the translation using the same word “baptized” … rather than “washed” (the term used in OT for what happened before a high priest’s anointing), and (b) they read their ritual experience of water baptism into the text to gain a supposedly good “prooftext”

    I am not uneasy with repentance … I prefer people showing true repentance in their daily walk over those who think that “a ritual” establishes or proves or signifies their repentance. Someone wants to immerse themselves in water, be immersed by someone else in water, be sprinkled with water symbolically … fine with me. BUT, please note, none of those rituals say any more than a person declaring by means of words that they have repented and now believe on Christ and confess him as Lord.

  11. on 22 Oct 2007 at 12:44 amWolfgang

    Hi all,

    it seems that water baptim is in actuality in many churches the ritual by which the particular denomination / church / group establishes who is “a real member” of their denomination / church / group. Sure, they then claim Bible verses like Acts 2,38.42 or 1Co 12,13 or Gal 3 etc and thereby actually equating their group with the church spoken of in the Bible ….

    Water baptism becomes the “entry ritual” into the group/ denomination, if you have submitted to that group’s dogma, you are initiated as a full member into the group, if you do not submit to that ritual, you are not a full member, at best only a visitor. Quite often, folks who have changed denominations have had to be baptized in water again, because their new church could not (because of their dogmas or statutes) consider them “full members” and only visitors and as such they could not participate in certain functions (in one case I know of, they could not partake of lord’s supper) who are reserved “for members only” …

    Now, what does water baptism then really have to even do with repentance? Shouldn’t we be sober and watchful and walk circumspectly so that we can see where man’s traditions are overtaking what is the truth of the Scriptures?

    Cheers,
    Wolfgang

  12. on 22 Oct 2007 at 8:17 amJohnO

    Wolfgang,

    I’m sorry you don’t like what John the Baptist, Jesus, and the NT chose as the symbol for repentance. But that was exactly what was chosen. As I learn more, I’m understanding why. First, during the time of John the Baptist, the Jewish rabbis had begun baptizing proselytes, along with circumcision and other offerings. Many rabbis had different opinions of exactly what should be done, and it took them a while to agree on a specific set of things. John the Baptist came, and took this baptism of proselytes and foisted it on Israel. Essentially by telling the pharisees, and Israelites they needed to be baptized, he was telling them that they were yet outside of the covenant with God. Obviously the pharisees took offense. Repentance was needed to enter the covenant, and water baptism was the acceptance of the covenant and a symbol of that repentance. Now when Jesus comes along he also continues to baptize (John 3-4). Paul tells us what, in addition to John’s baptism of entering the covenant and symbol of repentance, it means. It means dying with Christ on the cross, and coming up in the newness of life. Being cleansed from your sin, forgiven, showing God that you accept the covenant and will live by its terms. This is the act God has deemed to be done – not man. Jesus commands it in Mt 28, and Peter commands it on inspiration of holy spirit in Acts 2.

  13. on 22 Oct 2007 at 8:24 amSean

    I think the discussion is getting a bit side tracked. Baptism really doesn’t have anything to do with it. If a new person comes in to the group who is baptized, I don’t know it. It is not like a halo sits above their head because they have repented. JP’s original point is still as valid and convicting as ever–we need to talk to the new people, stop assuming things, and find out where they are at. This is step one, the step I’m not doing, and the first step of evangelism. I get so overwhelmed on Sunday morning with all the different tasks that I do not make time for talking to new people. This needs to change.

    Wolfgang, do you believe in the “ritual” of communion? Baptism was clearly connected with repentance in Scripture. Reducing it to the language of ritual is to accuse the early Christian of performing an empty sacrament. I would not dare accuse John B, Jesus, the apostles, or the rest of the disciples of ignorant, misguided, empty ritual. Remember, we get our doctrine from them not the other way around.

    Also, I was quite shocked when you said, that if someone challenged you to repent you would have

    I would have laughed my head off at such stupidity that was called “Christianity” and gladly said “goodbye, folks …. be happy with your sectarian clique” ….

    Remember, that repentance is the first priority for new people in New Testament Christianity. John the B came saying “repent the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mat 3.2), Jesus came saying “repent the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mat 4.17; Mark 1.15), he sent out the twelve with the same message (Mat 10.7; Luke 9.2; Mark 6.12), and he sent the 70 out with the same message (Luke 10.9). Jesus clearly states that “this gospel of the kingdom” (i.e. including repentance) will be proclaimed to all nations and then the end will come (Mat 24.14). Thus, for you to be offended by the notion of someone urging you towards repentance, calling it “stupidiy” is really strange to me. The very first command of Jesus in the earliest gospel includes a call to “repent” (Mark 1.15).

    Nevertheless, you are right that we should not “hit people over the head” with the gospel. No one has ever suggested that and it is not our practice to go up to strangers or new people and yell at them to repent. However, one CAN preach the biblical gospel of repentance with gentleness, love, compassion, and with much listening to find out where the other person is at. The gospel confronts man that he needs to change, that is its nature. If we take repentance out of the gospel, we lose the gospel.

  14. on 22 Oct 2007 at 9:57 amWolfgang

    Hi Sean,

    Wolfgang, do you believe in the “ritual” of communion?

    No, I do not believe in a “ritual of communion” … which of the various “rituals” we see today in various churches would be the correct one? I do believe that what was called “the lord’s supper” was to be done in remembrance (a “memorial meal”). It is biblically speaking NOT a sacrament. As far as I understand the Scriptures, there were and there are no such things as sacraments given to the church.

    As for your schock at what I wrote concerning how I would have reacted at the time I initially attended some fellowships together with a girl whom I had befriended, I am simply telling you how I would have most likely reacted at the time IF people had treated me a certain way. I did not even say I would call “repentance” a “stupidity” … I indicated that I would have called those folks’ talk and behavior of “hitting me over the head” as “stupidity and sectarianism”

    Yes, repentance is first priority for new people in order to get their lives in line with God … BUT does that mean that one can’t have “normal” conversation with people to get to know them and to then share the “good news” with them, leading them to the point where they can make up their own minds? From reading the Scriptures and having gained a bit of a scope of things, I would say that we are not always given all the words someone spoke or said … and I would venture to say that when we read that John the baptist and Jesus went about and preached, saying “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand”, it does NOT mean, that they went about and just shouted that one sentence repeatedly at people!

    I am not taking repentance out of the gospel … but I also am not making one statement to a person like “Repent!” (together with the inclination of “or else don’t come to our fellowship anymore”) to be “the gospel”

    You know, Sean, quite often it seems that I am a little too old for you folks … 🙂 since my comments almost always are a bit in a “slow down”, “careful fellows”, “let’s consider this a little more from a different angle,” etc type of “tone” that is somewhat opposed to the “youthful enthusiasm” tone I read in many comments from you and others … Maybe you will understand what I mean when some 25 years have passed and your children are the “youthful enthusiasts” and you are the “older and slower” part who is looking on and sees a few of his own earlier enthusiastic (but unfortunately not all thought through) ideas showing themselves all over again ….

    Have a great day
    Cheers,
    Wolfgang

  15. on 22 Oct 2007 at 10:21 amSean

    Yes, repentance is first priority for new people in order to get their lives in line with God … BUT does that mean that one can’t have “normal” conversation with people to get to know them and to then share the “good news” with them, leading them to the point where they can make up their own minds?

    This is exactly what we have been advocating all along! Glad we see eye-to-eye here.

    You know, Sean, quite often it seems that I am a little too old for you folks … 🙂 since my comments almost always are a bit in a “slow down”, “careful fellows”, “let’s consider this a little more from a different angle,” etc type of “tone” that is somewhat opposed to the “youthful enthusiasm” tone I read in many comments from you and others …

    Wolfgang, I think I speak for everyone when I say that I appreciate your perspective. You have survived TWI and made it out the other side with your faith intact, and having so many more years experience you have seen a lot that most of us have not in the world in general and in religion in particular.

    Even so, enthusiasm need not be a property of youth. Though the too often go hand in hand. One of the most powerful combinations is an elder with enthusiasm. Besides, so many in my generation are apathetic not enthusiastic. Regardless, we definitely need each other to keep from getting off track. Thank you for that.


    Wolfgang and I more than a decade ago 🙂

  16. on 22 Oct 2007 at 12:20 pmJohnO

    I glad that Paul wrote this:

    Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but {rather} in speech, conduct, love, faith {and} purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.

    Our enthusiastic voices that are heard here are also followed by many elders in the Church of Jesus Christ. I’m glad to work with them, as they are glad to work with us young-ins.

  17. on 22 Oct 2007 at 12:32 pmJohn Paul

    This thread got very sentimental all of a sudden.

  18. on 22 Oct 2007 at 3:18 pmFrank

    This is a most excellent discussion! If I may address how do we determine if a new visitor is genuine:

    How do we identify the good soil? (Mark 4:1-20) At first contact, we can’t because we look on the outward appearance, only God knows the heart. We are told to sow, so sow we must! We are not told to go out and find good soil, we are told to give the Word of God, to plant the seeds. Initially, we all are poor soil, full of rocks, thorns in our life. Some of us have planted over and over again in the same soil and seen no fruit. Sometimes it only takes one season and fruit is abundant. Hard to tell who is what kind of soil. I’m glad the many, many people God put as planters and waterers in my life never quit.

    The next question is: How do we determine if those members in our church/fellowship are bearing good fruit? God gives us that answer, too:

    Matt 7: 17 “So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 “A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 “So then, you will know them by their fruits. (NAS)

    We will know them by their fruits! Excellent! That is easy to see. We are looking for fruits of the Spirit. (Galatians 5:13-26). If they are not present, we will see the deeds of the flesh.

    John Paul, I believe you were doing well, trying to discern fruits or deeds. You confronted the young man. Well Done! Did he stay in Bible Study?

    7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. 10 So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.

    Incidentally, I have been that new visitor in church many times. My family and I have moved often due to military service. We have served/worship with TWIGs, Southern Baptists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Disciples of Christ, and non-denominational believers. We have chosen to become members in every church group we have attended. Only once were we required to go through water baptism and that was as an outward sign to the rest of the congregation as our commitment to serve them. We discussed our beliefs and the differences we may have with a congregation’s statement of faith. In every case, we were never told we could not be members. We may not have been the leaders of Bible Study (being non-Trinitarian, go figure!) but we were always granted membership. I thank God that I can attribute that to having visable fruit.

  19. on 23 Oct 2007 at 6:12 amWolfgang

    Hello Frank,

    you mentioned above

    How do we identify the good soil? (Mark 4:1-20)

    My question would be: Who says it is our job to identify the good soil (or any other soil)? Does your question point in the direction of first finding good ground before sowing seed? I suppose that you are alluding to the parable of the sower and the seed and the various types of ground … if so, I would point out that the sower went out to sow seed! The different type of ground are then used by Jesus to indicate people’s reaction to what they hear and receive … we do not read about anyone going about and identifying what type of ground that person might be whom they meet for the first time in their life …

    Cheers,
    Wolfgang

  20. on 23 Oct 2007 at 9:17 amDustin Smith

    1 John 4:1 [Command] Test the spirits to see if they are from God

    Matt. 7:20 So then you [command] will know them by their fruits.

    1 Thes. 5:21 [command] Examine everything carefully, hold fast to what is true.

    Seems like we are commanded to not be ignorant of fruit.

    Dustin

  21. on 23 Oct 2007 at 9:51 amFrank

    Wolfgang, Yes, Sir, exactly. This was a rhetorical question that I then answered the same way you did.

    “How do we identify the good soil? (Mark 4:1-20) At first contact, we can’t because we look on the outward appearance, only God knows the heart. We are told to sow, so sow we must! We are not told to go out and find good soil, we are told to give the Word of God, to plant the seeds. “

  22. on 23 Oct 2007 at 8:58 pmJohn Paul

    Frank,
    No, unfortunitly he has not been back to fellowship. I told him the good news of Christs sacrifice for his sins but he did not seem interested in that nor in repenting. I let the young woman he was interested know about how he was mainly interested in her. This was confermed later that night after he had gone home, he called her and asked her out. I wwas really hoping too, because he seemed like kind of a “nice guy.”

  

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