I DON’T WANT TO CHANGE RELIGIONS

When I was walking toward a small Mexican town in my late teens, I first heard this question, “Hey, Ministro, what church saves?” This person was looking to start an argument. What he wanted me to say was, “The Baptist Church saves.” Then he would have argued that the Catholic Church saves. And he was looking to engage me in a fight over religions and churches.

That question shows a misunderstanding about salvation. Another question is very similar to that is, “Which religion saves?” Here the understanding is that membership in a certain church or a certain religion is essential to be saved.

My answer to that man on the Mexican border surprised him. I said, “No church saves. Only Jesus saves.” Over the years as I have shared the Christian faith with many people all over the earth, I hear the statement: “I don’t want to change religions.” Again, the person who says this thinks that salvation is dependent upon belonging to a church, an organization, or a religion.

Jesus never told us that we needed a change of religion; he said we needed a change of heart. A leading religious leader of the Jewish faith came to Christ one night. The story is found in John 3. A man named Nicodemus was talking with Christ about his signs that showed he was a teacher come from God. Instantly Jesus got the point. “Most assuredly I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3) notice that Jesus did not say, “Nicodemus, you need a new religion.” Jesus told him he needed a new birth. “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5)

One objection I hear often today is that a person is born into a certain religion in a certain country or culture, and therefore, they do not want to change their religion. They view it as a rejection of their culture or their family. They say, “you have your religion. I have mine.” So, it comes back to the argument of which religion saves, or which church saves?” Still the answer is, “No church saves. Only Jesus saves.”

Today people view religion as any other commodity. In I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, authors Geisler and Turek say that truth in religion is like selecting ice cream flavors. Some will say, “You like chocolate. I like vanilla” (Crossway Books, 2004 p. 21). As if it is just a matter of personal taste. “You like Christianity. I like Islam.” It is not trying to find a religion that suits us.

Jesus never said that we had to pick the right religion. Jesus never said that one religion was better than another. He never said his religion was superior to others, in fact, he never said he was coming to bring a new religion. He said, “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets. I have come not to abolish, but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17).

Jesus did not come to establish a new religion. He did not even come to reform Judaism. He came to be the fulfillment of all the prophecies and sacrifices from the Old Testament. Those sacrifices were a foreshadowing of his sacrifice on the cross.

He said in the same passage where he spoke to Nicodemus in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” He did not say, “whoever joins my religion,” but “whoever believes in him shall…have eternal life.”

Do not let clinging to a religion or an experience rob you of being born again. To be born again, you must trust in Christ alone for your salvation. Joining a church, a religion or an organization can never save you.

Do You Have “the Gift”?

Part of my role as pastor is to teach my people how to do evangelism. Many times, they respond by telling me that they do not have the gift of evangelism. They feel as though that excuses them from doing “the work of the evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5).

Not long ago, a vocational evangelist asked me if I had “the gift.” He said that if I had the gift, I would not be content to be just a pastor, but that I would have found a way to speak in front of crowds at crusades. I told him that God had not opened those doors for me.  If I really had “the gift,” he reasoned, I would make a way.

Similarly, I have been told that I do not have “the calling.” A little more than twenty years ago, I was the pastor of a small, struggling church in south Texas. Because the church was not growing very much, one of the deacons implied that I did not have “the calling.” If I did, he reasoned, then the church would be growing. Since the church was not actively growing, apparently I was not called to the ministry.

At an Evangelism Conference of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico in Albuquerque in 2011, one of the speakers addressed the group of pastors. He said, “Pastor, if you can’t get at least one person to walk down the aisle of your church and get baptized each year, you should question your calling.” It did not matter what kind of spiritual climate your church may be in, you are only effective if you are producing numbers.

Obviously, the gift is evaluated numerically. If your church is growing, and people are coming in (especially if they are getting baptized) and your church budget is expanding, then you must have “the calling.” If you speak at crusades and large numbers of people make decisions, then you have “the gift.” In some denominations, it is also called the “anointing.” You will hear church members say, “My, that sermon sure was anointed,” or “had the anointing on it.”

So, how do you know if you have “the gift?” Most would say that if you are not producing numbers, i.e. new converts, new church members, or dollars, you are not called, gifted or anointed. Biblically, none of these factors indicates calling, gifting or anointing.

Look at some of the Old Testament prophets, for example. Jeremiah did not have a large following. He found himself at the bottom of a cistern, and ultimately in exile. Isaiah had a dramatic encounter with God. God definitely called him for service, but in Isaiah 6, he asked God how long it would be as the people would not listen. Even God’s response sounds like a lament. God answered Isaiah’s question: “Until the cities are laid waste and without inhabitant, The houses are without a man, The land is utterly desolate, The Lord has removed men far away, And the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. But yet a tenth will be in it, And will return and be for consuming, As a terebinth tree or as an oak, Whose stump remains when it is cut down. So the holy seed shall be its stump.” (Isaiah 6:11-13). God had promised that the people’s hearts would be dull and their ears deaf, certainly not the testimony of a widespread revival in the land. Yet God did not say that Isaiah was not “called” because he did not produce large numbers of converts.

At Christ’s ascension, he only had 11 followers with him. Judas was gone and Mathias had not yet replaced Judas as one of the Apostles. If Jesus had tried to build his church today, the sending agency would have given him three years to make it. They would have evaluated the effectiveness of his ministry by looking at the numbers. They would have said, “Well, we have funded you for three years, with a decrease in funding each year, hoping you would become self-sustaining. It has been three years, and you have only made eleven converts, so we are going to de-fund you.” That is modern church planting, so, apparently, Christ did not have the calling, the gift or the anointing.

A quick search of the scripture will not reveal the phrase of the gift of evangelism. The Bible refers to the gift of the evangelist in Ephesians 4:11, but the gift of evangelism. All believers are commissioned to be disciple-makers, which involves the task of evangelism. Paul commanded Timothy to do the work of the evangelist (2 Timothy 4:5). He did not say, “Don’t worry about it, Timothy, you don’t have the gift.”

While we may not have the “gift, the calling or the anointing,” we all have the task of evangelism. Christ commissioned all his followers in Matthew 28:18-20, among others, to do that job. Do your task and leave the numbers to God.