Gnosticism is an ancient system of “wisdom” which among other things taught that matter is evil. It is not a Christian system of thought and teaching. Calvinism has five major differences with Christian teaching, two of which are discussed here.
Bill Pile worked for the Lord in Los Angeles, California. His ministry was in an area of the city where in the past many have given up on reaching and converting lost ones whose lifestyles need drastic repair. He published a monthly HEARTBEAT newsletter which was sent to “those who love the city.” In HEART BEAT for April 1997, Bill wrote about a matter which should be of interest to us all – how do folks really accomplish coming to Christ for salvation? And here’s what he shared:
Luke and Eileen were excited. Who wouldn’t be who had just been through the most profound experience of life? And what experience could be more profound than a religious one? Luke and Eileen had attended a crusade which was attracting large crowds in their city. They were awed by the glory that was coming down. They had never felt such warmth. For them, this was about as close to heaven as you could get without leaving Johnstown Heights.
The music was celestial. The speaker seemed like a reincarnation of John the Baptist (who once powerfully called god’s Jewish nation to repentance). Of course they “went forward” at the close of the service when invited. Why wouldn't they? Their marriage wasn’t real happy and there were financial struggles.
They huddled with a counselor in the “Seekers Tent.” From the counselor they heard exactly what they had heard from the speaker. That is – they were sinners, without hope of forgiveness and eternal life, but Jesus died for them. All they needed to do was yield to him by “receiving Christ in their hearts.”
A nice little prayer was printed on the back of a card, and what was needed was for them to pray that “sinner’s prayer.” They did so. They then felt relieved, and cleansed. The counselor hugged them, then others around them began hugging. Tears flowed down cheeks. Luke was shaking and Eileen was holding onto him tightly. It was a night they would never forget!
A few days later the excitement had waned somewhat. But it was replaced by a deep-down sense of rightness with God. They knew they had received Christ in their hearts and they were heaven-bound. This scene happens hundreds, perhaps thousands of times every week, as sinners respond to the call to “Receive Christ in your heart.”
As the ultimate “Christian Party Pooper,” let me suggest that there’s something wrong with this entire scene. It’s actually GNOSTICISM in its modern form. Gnosticism? Yes, gnosticism. According to Baker’s Dictionary of Theology (Harrison, Bromiley & Henry, Baker Book House, 1960), gnosticism is “a very dangerous heresy which came into the church like a flood in the second century A.D.” Gnosticism is further described as a philosophy which gave some people special, inside spiritual knowledge that came not through the intellect, but through the spirit.
These “special” people knew things without learning them, and they disparaged conventional learning which employed the intellect. If the gnostics had prevailed, Christianity would have become all a matter of feelings.
Don’t go looking around for someone named Valentius or Basilides or St. John of Ephesus – they died many centuries ago. They were gnostics. Instead of looking for them, look for their modern posterity, people like that crusade preacher and the counselors who urged Luke and Eileen and others to “receive Christ in your heart.” “Receive Christ in your heart” is the ultimate in gnostic lingo. It takes union with Christ out of the realm of the intellect and makes it entirely an emotional transaction. That’s bad for two reasons:
1 It’s bad because it’s NOT the language or example of Scripture. It seems hardly necessary to revisit the Pentecost on which the gospel was first presented in its fullness (Acts 2). We hope our readers will all be familiar with the things there spoken of. And we’ll all know that indeed the appeal from Peter and the other apostles of Christ was to the intellect of the hearers. They never went for the emotional jugular. Emotions did come, but only after FACTS had lodged in the minds of the hearers.
The contemporary revision of Acts 2:37,38 would read something like this – “Brothers, what shall we do? And Peter replied, Receive Christ in your heart. So they asked, How should we do that? Peter replied, Pray with me this little prayer we have prepared for you. Just ask Jesus to come into your heart.”
But that's not at all what Peter actually did say, of course. In fact, you can read every story Luke shared in Acts about people coming to Christ and not a one of them ever was asked to respond in THAT way. Please read Acts chapter 2 in your own Bible to see what the apostle Peter DID say. The New American Standard Bible reads, “Peter said to them, Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit ... ” (Acts 2:38 NASB).
2 Seeking salvation through feelings rather than facts is bad because it flies in the face of biblical teaching about salvation. “We gave you the FACTS of the gospel,” Paul is telling the Christians in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8. Then he reminded them, “By this GOSPEL you are saved” (verse 2).
The gospel was then and is now simple facts about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Paul’s treatise on baptism in Romans 6 deals only with FACTS. Feelings were not important in the discussion. “Or don't you know ...” he asked? Knowledge of FACTS was the issue!
The apostle John began his first letter by establishing the truth of the faith he preached. “We gave you FACTS. You believed them. From that decision fellowship came, and finally feelings (joy) followed” (1 John 1:1-4). A contemporary reading of that passage would need to sound something like this to reflect current practice – “You received Christ in your hearts. Then you felt really saved, and then you enjoyed the fellowship with other believers and that felt good too.”
The elevation of feelings over facts is becoming the tragedy of American Christianity. It is the new paradigm of evangelicalism and even of much of fundamentalism. Even independent congregations such as ours (undenominational Christian Churches/Churches of Christ) are heavily pressured to “join the crowd.”
Up with heart! Up with feelings! Down with doctrine, is the cry. Groups of believers committed to asking, “What does the Bible say?” are losing their appeal in this feelings-driven “Christian” culture. It’s decision day, perhaps. Will we keep on asking, “But what does THE BIBLE say?” and give people a facts-based faith, a faith that will survive emotional ups and downs? Or will we join the “love unites, doctrine divides” crowd?
UNTRUE facts do not provide a basis for eternal salvation with a God who loves truth and hates lies. Our choice is to go with GOD and TRUE FACTS. And, of course, we are wise to use TRUE ways of approaching God and serving Him. We still are saved by OBEYING the gospel of Christ (see 2 Thessalonians 1). The “new birth” Jesus said was essential for entrance into His kingdom is more than feelings. It’s a new birth of “water and spirit.” Let’s not try to omit either the water of baptism or true, heart-felt repentance. “You must be born again!” (“of water AND spirit” John 3:3-5).
Go to top
We wouldn’t ask you to pray “the sinner’s prayer,” and then tell you that had made you a Christian. No way. You may have read “tracts” inviting you to become a Christian. You may even have signed a card and been told you WERE now saved by signing it and by thankfully praying. You weren’t saved that way. Bill Pile (of Los Angeles, California) shares some thoughts on how sinners change their status in order then to be “in Christ.” He writes —Don’t we know that most pamphlets on salvation contain some form of a “sinner’s prayer” at the end? Don’t we know how easy it is for people to pray it? (It doesn’t require a preacher or a church service.) Don’t we know how good people feel after they’ve prayed and been told they’re now saved? Do we want to make it difficult for people to come to Christ?
We do NOT want to make it difficult for anyone to become a Christian. Of course not! But we also know many are telling people all it takes to be a Christian is to say you want to do so. And yes, it sounds very good! And easy. One popular “sinner’s prayer” goes like this – “Lord Jesus, I need you. I open the door of my heart and receive you as my Savior and Lord. Thank you for forgiving my sins. Take control of the throne of my life. Make me the kind of person you want me to be.”
Perhaps you’ve prayed this prayer or one very like it. Now Ray Downen of Joplin, Missouri comments —
This simple prayer says much. It admits a sinner’s need for a Savior. It testifies to the person’s belief that it’s Jesus who can and will save. It acknowledges that Jesus calls for a changed life. And this is all to the good! Each variety of the sinner’s prayer we observe seems to be based on a story told by Jesus. He spoke of a religious person who prayed to tell God how good he was and how worthy. Then Jesus reports on a man who recognized that he was NOT good, and who prayed for mercy from a God He hoped would help him become better. This recital is found in Luke 18:9-14.
The prayer of the humble man is commended. The proud man’s prayer didn’t get him anywhere, says Jesus. So a sinner seeking salvation should obviously be humble, just as the “sinner’s prayer” calls for one who wants to become a Christian to be. Yet these prayers the “tracts” teach may imply that all it takes to be saved is just to pray. And that’s a false hope.
Jesus says sinners MUST be born again in order to become part of His Kingdom, the church. In John 3:3-5, Jesus says that the essential “new birth” is of both water AND spirit. Think about how a baby is born. You likely know that life begins long before the actual birth. The life begins when a seed is “fertilized.” The Bible teaches that new spiritual life begins when a sinner hears the gospel and believes it. But faith alone doesn’t cause actual birth, it only starts a process which leads TO birth.
The apostle Peter tells some sinners how the actual birth occurs. He’s quoted in Acts 2:38 replying to some believers who asked, “What must we do?” Spiritual seed had been planted. Jesus had said the new birth was of both water and spirit. Peter says it’s a change of spiritual direction and then a birth requiring burial in and resurrection out of water. What he says to explain the new birth is, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” This is somewhat more than reciting a prayer!
If you study the records of people who in Bible days turned to Christ for salvation, you'll notice that it was NEVER done by praying, but always WAS done in a way which included baptism in water. We have every reason to suppose that it’s always by hearing about Jesus, believing what we hear about the risen Lord, turning to Him for salvation, then by being immersed in water and immediately being lifted up to walk in NEW life.
“Repenting” is turning away from thinking we can do it all alone or while continuing to sin. It calls for genuine change. We change our mind and our heart’s desires. We give up self-love. We begin to love God and other people.
These accounts of early conversions are all found in the book of Acts, which is the history book of the New Testament. If you’re wanting to know the Way of Christ, you’ll do well to read the Bible rather than just asking other people what you need to do. And the place to read of conversions to Christ is the 5th book of the New Testament. It’s named “Acts of Apostles.”
Many differing answers are given by men and churches as to how sinners should become saints. But the true answer is found in God's Word.
The one instance when prayer was a part of a conversion is found in Acts chapter 22. The person turning to Christ was Saul of Tarsus. He had seen the risen Lord, then fasted and prayed for three days (no one-minute prayer for HIM!) when God sent a man to tell him what he was to do to be saved. It’s in Acts 22:16, “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.”
Why the delay of three days? Saul was on his way to the city of Damascus for the very purpose of arresting and persecuting Christians. No Christians wanted to rush to him when he got to town! But God persuaded one to do so at the right time. And that Christian’s advice was not for Saul to pray for salvation, but instead to immediately be baptized, and then do as suggested by the “sinner’s prayer” we saw earlier. After he was baptized, he could then pray to thank God for saving him. He could then continue with a good conscience walking in Christ’s Way.
A sinner today seeking salvation would do well to follow the example of Saul. We don’t need to see a vision. We can turn TO Christ by repenting of sin. We can see the “old man of sin” (our old self) be buried as the body of Jesus was buried. We can die to sin and be raised up to walk in new life. We also can turn OUR lives over to Him. That’s what Paul did.
Are you ready? Find a Christian and let that Christian help you begin walking with Jesus toward eternal life. You’ll be glad you made that decision. It’s one no person need ever regret! But it’s not just talk. We’re invited to “join Christ” and “put on Christ” by being baptized INTO Him and into the church which is His body. Then we enjoy living as Jesus did, serving God and seeking holiness through Bible study and by good works for God. – Bill Pile
Send to Master/Works, PO Box 50989, Los Angeles CA 90050 for Bill Pile’s “NOT HERE” tract partially quoted above. $2 will get you an assortment of Master/Works tracts on a variety of subjects.Go to top
Jesus said that those who love Him should also obey Him. He informs us that those who are not His would recognize those who are His by the way that we love one another. Those who belong to Christ urgently need to love one another! Christ commands it. But that’s not to say that we should ignore doctrinal differences and pretend that every doctrine is sure to be right. Wrong is not right. Loving one who is wrong will not make his beliefs or actions right if they are in fact wrong.
We’re saved by a personal, living faith in Jesus as Lord. Personal and living faith, that is. Salvation is a daily walk with God, not just a one-time thrilling experience. I write here about what many wrongly-taught Christians believe. The two teachings here spoken of below are not taught in God’s word, yet many who think they are being true to the Bible teach these doctrines. Two almost-correct teachings.
Bible students will surely agree that any sinner who seeks salvation must go by the way of the cross of Jesus Christ. Jesus came to the earth to die on a cross in place of us sinners who deserved to die. We’re saved through faith in Jesus! We’re saved by grace and not at all by OUR works! There’s no salvation apart from Jesus and His atoning death. Those are mistaken who imagine that salvation comes through any earthly church organization, or only by rite or ceremony, or through payment of money, or by any amount of good works or acts of penance.
I do not suggest that sin is atoned for in any way except through the cross. Nor do I suggest that any person can be saved without faith in Jesus as the unique Son of God. He died in our place, was resurrected, and returned to Heaven to prepare for us in a future time to join Him there. It matters greatly whether we understand or do not understand that faith which has saved is faith which has led us to obey the gospel.
Jesus says we are saved through a new birth of water and spirit. The new birth includes both repentance and baptism. Jesus instructed His apostles to make disciples throughout the world. They were to do so by telling good news. Those who heard and believed gospel facts were to be baptized. The apostles, of course, did as they were told. In the book of Acts, Luke tells about the work and teaching of the apostles. In chapter 2 we read the thrilling account of how Christ’s church was born:
God sent a sound like a loud siren throughout the city of Jerusalem. Fire-like flames sat upon the apostles. And God put words into the mouths of these untaught countrymen — words which were heard and understood by men who were ignorant of the only languages known by the apostles and who yet each heard in their own languages what the apostles said. Then Peter’s message, which Luke gives us in good Greek, and which has been translated into most known languages, summarized what they all had been telling aloud. Luke reports that Peter told his hearers that Jesus had been put to death by wicked hands (the hands of some who just then were listening to Peter’s words) but that Jesus had risen from the dead. Luke reports that those who heard were cut to the heart. They understood their error. To make up for their sin, they asked, “What can we do (now)?”
It’s plainly to be seen that the inspired answer to those who seek to amend their wicked ways is that the sinner is to believe in Jesus as the risen Lord. AND the believer is to repent of sin. AND the repentant believer is to be immediately baptized for the remission of sins and in order to receive the “gift of the Holy Spirit.”
This account is clearly printed in your Bible in Acts, chapter 2. It’s no secret. But many contemporary preachers must not know about it, for they instruct inquirers differently than Peter did. Some say, “Come and apply for membership in our church. If we vote you in, we’ll baptize you because you have been saved and have received the Holy Spirit since you now believe in Jesus.” Is that what Luke says Peter said? Not really!
Anyone who reads the Bible seeking light from God on how to be born again is apt to see that the process is incomplete prior to immersion in water in Jesus’ name. Anyone who listens to popular preachers today can’t avoid seeing they teach that sinners are saved before baptism. They teach that baptism has nothing to do with becoming saved. Meanwhile, many who do seek salvation realize that obedience to Christ has a great deal to do with their conversion. So, because Christ commanded it, they accept baptism. Then (despite any contrary ideas of the baptizer) those obedient believers do have their sins remitted and do then receive the Holy Spirit as God’s gift.
The error in “faith-only” doctrine is in seeing baptism as an initiation into a local church rather than as the Bible presents it — an induction into Christ and HIS (universal) church. Jesus taught baptism, and the apostles practiced baptism. But the baptism Jesus and His apostles taught was not the baptism taught and practiced by many preachers and churches today.
In Acts (the history of the early church), sinners seeking salvation were told to repent and be baptized. “Faith-only” doctrine insists that only the saved are worthy of being baptized. Some today imagine that all who believe in Jesus are saved, and afterward some of the saints are admitted to membership (by baptism) into their congregation. Is their congregation, or a membership committee, the judge of who can be baptized. Some are unworthy? But God is unwilling that any who will repent should perish. And which of us is worthy? The wealthy? The popular? The “good people”?
The commission of the Master is that the gospel is to be preached to all, and that all who believe it (all who understand that Jesus is risen, is Lord, and invites them to follow Him) are to be baptized, and thus to enter into the Way of salvation. Correct fact #1 is that God calls sinners to repent and be baptized! All are welcome.Go to top
The second wrong teaching is that those who once enter the Way of Christ must forever walk with Him even if they drop out of the Way by losing their faith. This is strange thinking indeed. If we believe we’re saved by faith, and note that a person has “lost” his faith, why would we assume the person still would be saved by faith — by faith he once had but no longer does have! In fact, we can’t be saved without personal and living faith in the risen Lord, Jesus Christ. If the faith is lost, the salvation based on the faith is also lost.
A Baptist church leader in Joplin once insisted to me that a person couldn’t lose his/her faith. The Bible warns that those who DO lose their faith may be impossible to restore to repentance. Can we or can’t we? I read two passages from Hebrews (in chapters 6 and 10) to my friend, and he couldn’t see that the writer of Hebrews was plainly saying that a person who had been converted and later changed his/her mind and/or heart (his faith) was no longer saved by faith once held.
His idea was that the writer of Hebrews did not refer to a truly reborn (saved) person when he wrote of, “those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of God and the powers of the coming age ....” (Hebrews 6:4-12). He was sure that those spoken of hadn’t really genuinely gotten anything from God and could not fall away from faith because (he assumed) they didn’t ever have true salvation, true faith.
My friend emphasized that the fallen person had only “tasted” the heavenly gift, but he thought the person hadn’t received it, had just flirted with God and fooled Him into a brief trial period during which he was enlightened, received “the heavenly gift,” and had shared in the Holy Spirit. Could the Almighty God be so easily fooled? I think not. Does God give His Holy Spirit to unregenerate sinners — a sample, to try on for size? Do you really think so? “Eternal security” is neither true nor sensible.
Both these doctrines are not true to the Bible. Should Christians hold to doctrines which conflict with Bible truth? No, we should not do so.
Our salvation isn’t in any church — Christian, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist or otherwise. It’s in Jesus Christ. Regardless of the esteem we have for the preacher or teacher, our high priest is not any earthly preacher or teacher. Jesus is our high priest and savior. Our hope is in Him, not in our perfection or in our association with good people we respect and admire.
We do not have to be any kind of denominational disciples of Christ. Instead, we each can be a Christian (only) whose hope is in Christ and Bible teaching instead of in Baptist or Methodist or Presbyterian doctrine (or any other human system of doctrine). Many Christians choose to be only Christians. We don’t join any denomination. We prefer to be called just Christians rather than some different kind of Christians. I am one of those. I attend a church which attempts to follow the Bible alone and entirely. We accept no creeds. We think the Bible alone is the best guide for life which seeks to honor the God of the Bible.
Why not join with others in being undenominational Christians, loyal to Christ alone rather than seeking instruction from Christ plus human tradition and/or human opinion? If we love Jesus, we will serve Him and will keep His commandments! Jesus saves. I’m part of an undenominational fellowship of independent congregations who are generally known as Churches of Christ/Christian Churches. You also can be free in Christ.
Go to top