Thursday, May 18, 2006

All things to all men

I noted yesterday that 1 Corinthians 9:22 (at least part of it) is often used to justify all kinds of activities done in the name of evangelism. But when Paul expresses his evangelistic passion to us in showing us just how far he is willing to go ("I have become all things to all men that by all means I might save some"), he is not arguing for an "anything goes" approach to evangelism. Specifically, he is not suggesting that it is OK to become a prostitute in order to win prostitutes or a murderer in order to win murderers. Granted, these are absurd examples, but they illustrate the point that this statement cannot be taken as a license to warrant anything and everything done in the name of evangelism.

Look at what the Apostle actually says:
For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel's sake, that I may be partaker of it with you. (1 Cor. 9:19-23, NKJV)
Notice that Paul very carefully guards against an "anything goes" mentality by what he says parenthetically in verse 21. He is under the law of Christ! He is not free to do anything he wants (or as it is sometimes put, "whatever it takes") for the sake of seeing people saved. He is Christ's man and must live according to the law of His Lord. He will not sin in the attempt to get people saved. He will not act in a way that is unworthy of Gospel for that purpose either.

I am convinced that it is at just this point that many Christians--including Christian leaders--go astray in their well-intended but misguided zeal to do outlandish, even unscrupulous things to see people converted or to grow a church. They have lost sight of God's law and, consequently, of the seriousness of sin. They see the noble goal of getting people converted, and assume that "whatever it takes" is OK in pursuing it. When challenged about the biblical appropriateness of their methods, the argument tends to be, "but look at the results."

Paul's testimony in Romans 7:13 needs to be reconsidered. He describes one purpose of the law by saying that it functions so that "sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful." The law is a transcript of God's character. His holiness is displayed in His moral commandments. If we would remember His holiness and regularly remind ourselves of the sinfulness of sin we would shrink from any activity that would violate His standard of righteousness, no matter how noble the goal.

Anselm of Canterbury, the 11th & early 12th century theologian, understood this as well as anyone. He expressed it well in his classic book, Cur Deus Homo (Why God Became Man), when he puts the following line of questions to Boso:
ANSELM. So as not to make you tarry longer: what if it were necessary either for the whole world and whatever is other than God to perish and be reduced to nothing, or for you to do so small a thing which is contrary to the will of God?

BOSO. When I consider the action itself, I see it to be something trifling. But when I reflect upon the fact that it is contrary to the will of God, I recognize that it is something extremely grave and comparable to no loss. However, we are often irreproachable in acting against someone's will, so that his possessions are safeguarded; afterwards, our having done this pleases the one against whose will we have acted.

ANSELM. This happens to a man who sometimes does not understand what is useful to him, or who cannot replace what he loses; but God has no needs, and even as He has created all things, so He could also replace them if they were to perish.

BOSO. I must admit that even for the sake of preserving the whole of creation, it is not the case that I ought to do something which is contrary to the will of God.

ANSELM. What if there were more than one world, full of creatures, just as this world is?

BOSO. If there were an infinitely multiple number of worlds and they too were exhibited to me, I would still give the same answer.

ANSELM. You can do nothing more rightly.
If given the opportunity to commit the smallest sin in order to save the whole world, would you do it? Anselm--and Paul--says no. The detraction from the glory of God that even a "slight sin" causes is far too wicked to be justified by the salvation of the whole world or a world of worlds.

This is a litmus test by which we can judge our commitment to the glory of God above all things and the reality of our love for Him above all other loves. Yet, I wonder how many evangelicals in our day see it this way.

27 comments:

loveforthelost said...

I think the Million Dollar Man would be great president of SBC. That's who Al Mohler really wanted to endorse.

Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Dr. Ascol,

Praise God for this excellent statement of this principle. God has been teaching me this ever since my youth minister days.

Once I did whatever it took to get a large group of teenagers to go to an amusement park on Baptist Youth Days. We spent a great number of man hours and a great amount of money to get 70 teenagers to go. It was the biggest group our church had ever taken anywhere. The result? Not a single youth who did not already attend our church was ever saved or ever attended our church after that trip, in the four years I was there after that. My journey of understanding started then.

Now, with the fire engine baptistry and the MDM wrestling for Jesus examples, I think I understand.

-We faithfully tell the Gospel to anyone who will listen.
-We patiently teach the Christian doctrines and lifestyle to anyone who has been saved.
-We consistently live an exemplary Christian lifestyle.
-We trust God for the results.

Thanks for your help in seeing this clearly.

Love in Christ,

Jeff

Christopher Redman said...

What is evangelism? Not modern american evangelism but real evangelism? I know what it is not and I am trying to grasp more fully what it is...

It is not - a 7 minute, 5 finger presentation designed to get an easy response. "This program is designed to share the gospel in 7 minutes, get the decision, get them down the isle, and get them wet." (I've actually heard this said in describing a prominent evangelism program pushed within the SBC.)

I think that evangelism is both living and telling the whole truth about God. As Piper says, "God is the gospel". Real evangelism is done every time the Scriptures are opened and proclaimed, taught, explained, and modeled. I think that evangelism centers on knowing and proclaiming the "truth". As Christ said, "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free."

Knowing that God alone saves, that spiritual resurrections is monogistic and absolutely necessary, evangelism occurs when God's people know and proclaim the truth. I also think that evangelism is accomplished in discipleship as well. The GC says, "Go into all the world and make disciples, baptizing... teaching them all things which I have commanded you..." If the GC is our marching orders for evangelism, then everytime we hold a Bible study where believers are taught and equipped with good, solid, spiritual truth (ie: being discipled) evangelism is taking place. (Even if there are no lost people present at the moment.)

Evangelism is like salvation, it's not only conversion but also sanctification. It's not only hearing the gospel (the Word) but doing the gospel (the Word).

I am brand new to blogging. Am I doing okay? I am still wrestling with the subject of "true evangelism". Am I getting close to hitting the target?

While in S. Africa on a mission trip, I was having a discussion with a friend on Calvinism and evangelism. He asked me how I understood Paul's statement "knowing therefore the terror of the Lord we persuade men". (Rough quote) His question was if God is sovereign and only God saves, how and why persuade men?

I responded by stating that I believe we "persuade men" by telling them the truth (the whole truth), by doing so with passion, and calling for repentance and faith with urgency. (A dried up, academic Calvinist preaching the gospel is a contradiction.)

I'm open to more light on the subject if someone has more to offer.

Chris

Broadstone said...

Where did the Anselm quote come from?

Thanks.

J.D. Rector said...

Dear Dr. Ascol:

"Amen, amen and Amen!!" Thank you for your excellent comments on Paul's writings here. Your surmise of this passage needs to be taught in our churches all across this SBC and other evangelical denominations!

Thanks again brother!

J.D. Rector

Broadstone said...

ok, I see the source, "He expressed it well in his classic book, Cur Deu Homo (Why God Became Man)"

doh!

Broadstone said...

Spurgeon suggested men being set on fire to win the lost.

Darel said...

I guess the question then is: Would Paul become a wrestler to promote the gospel?

I am preaching this Sunday on Evangelism (coincidence?) based on Col 4:5-6, but one of my supporting verses is 1 Cor 9:22 (more coincidence?). In that context, I use the phrase "speak their language".

But "speaking their language" is not the same thing as committing their sins. Using modern American English (with slang) is one thing. Speaking in a way that the cultural context you are in understands, is one thing. Doing the things that they do, is a completely different issue.

peter lumpkins said...

Dr. Aschol,

Peter here. Thank you for allowing me opportunity to post on your site. I also appreciate the response to my post elsewhere. I have reflected much on it in my heart...

If I may, I want to chime in and say with you surely 'The detraction from the glory of God that even a "slight sin" causes is far too wicked to be justified by the salvation of the whole world or a world of worlds' I mean, who would affirm that we should sin in order to do good? Even the great good of seeing souls saved? Right?

But wait! Some among us argue that it would indeed be good to tell a lie to save a life (recall good old godly Corrie), do we not? Or to kill an innocent human being (via abortion) to save a mother? Ah, but that is another post, I'm sure you agree :-)

Here is a question to consider: who among the church growth crowd actually would argue that what they are doing IS ok, even if it IS sin because of the results it brings? I would argue that they would argue that their actions stand as anything but sinful. My conversations with many with whom I have disagreed about Chruch growth have been about freedom to explore methodology--whether from the world of marketing, culture, or other--that, while not explicitly commanded in Scripture, is not explicitly forbidden either. For many of them, they see it as a matter of the "disputed", thus freedom enters the equation (as in, RM. 14.1ff).

Now, before anyone on cyber air gets his monitor wet from slobbering and spitting while they're replying to me, allow me to be clear: I think possessing a firetruck baptistry is the most dispicable example of spiritual stupidity for an "outreach tool" with which I am presently familiar. It honestly takes my breath away. Period.

So, Dr. Aschol, is this the type of example to which you refer when you speak of "well-intended but mis-guided ideas"? If so, my guess is--though I have absolutely no statistical proof, just an observable guess--that these examples are almost as equally extreme as your admitted "all things to all men" meaning that Paul was including becoming a murderer if necessary. That is, I do not see in my travels--at least among the utterly overwhelming majority of SBC churches, who even are churches leaning toward, "seeker-friendly", church growth principles, etc--the desire to implement The FireTruck Method. Perhaps I am blind and will be perfectly happy to admit such, if I am wrong.

In closing, I would like to know how, given your very thoughtful post on 1C.9.22, you would understand our Inspired Apostle's admitted glee over the pure Gospel being preached from phony(?) preachers laced with perfidious motives. Here, Paul's point seems, at least to me, that though evangelism is happening under questionable circumstances from questionable characters with questionable purposes, he is ecstatically happy that the Bibical Gospel is proclaimed. But why would he be so deeply satisfied if such conditions in which the Gospel was proclaimed were so doggedly deplorable?

This stands even more striking if we consider his vexed spirit as he breathed fire and brimstone toward the Galatian detractors (G1.6-10), damning their souls to a burning Hell for daring to preach.

But, of course, unlike his encounter with the anonymous preachers during imprisonment in Caesarea(?) who evidently preached Christ and Him crucified, the Galatian detractors were preaching "another Gospel" which, in his view, was definitively NOT the Gospel at all. Judiazers--whose sincerity Paul did not question--preached error. The anonymous Philippian dudes--whose circumstances, including sincerity, heart, etc--preached truth.

These are just my thoughts, Dr. Aschol, as I attempt to wade through this maze of appropriate vs. inappropiate measures for "doing Church" in our day. They are not to challlenge you in your rightful admonition to glorify God in all we do.

Surely, we must agree for purity and godliness as we all seek His Glory. And with that, I am...

Peter

peter lumpkins said...

Dr. Aschol

Oops! I am very sorry. I meant to push edit and pushed publish. Though I am quite sure you are familiar with the reference for Paul's comments about the insincere but truthful preachers, I need to post the correction as Phil. 1.15-18. I am...

Peter

Byroniac said...

Peter Frank:

Sir, I believe the correct spelling of the name of Dr. Ascol is without the "h," according to this blog. I've never met Dr. Ascol in real life though. And perhaps I am a bit gullible about believing what I read on the internet (though hopefully that does not apply here).

heath lloyd said...

Tom, thank you for the well-thought out entry concerning the "whatever it takes" philosophy of church growth that is held up as THE approach to take. Did not the Lord Jesus say that HE would build His church? Didn't He say that she (His church)would be built on the rock -- the confession that He alone is Lord and God? I am still waiting for THAT conference.

peter lumpkins said...

Byroniac,

Thank you for the correction. Nor have I the priviledge of shaking his hand. But I do experience, quite often in fact, the misspelling of my last name:
Pumpkins
Cumpkins
Lampkins
Sumpkins
Simpkins
Lumpkin
Luzkins
I honestly could go on!

My apologies to you, Dr. Askol. No wait! I meant, Dr. Ascol I am...

Peter

peter lumpkins said...

Dr. Ascol,

Byroniac correctly pointed out to me my incorrect spelling of your name. My deepest regrets (also, I trust you possess a sense of humor needed as you may scan my note to Byroniac:)

BTW, where did you attend seminary and in what years? (if you have time). I am...

Peter

Byroniac said...

Peter Frank:

Good grief! You really have.

I, too, have experienced my fair share of name misspellings (perhaps not as many as you, though). One of the funniest occurred in Vidor, Texas where I used to live, where someone (who apparently was none too good at spelling) put my name down as "Biron Kirtis Smyth" or something similar (memory fails me). However, at other times, my rather poor handwriting skills are the culprit. The local Texas Roadhouse restaurant here in Tyler, Texas, had my first name as "Byaon" for a little while in their email correspondence to me. And as much I would prefer blaming someone else's bad eyesight (especially under the sometimes dim lighting conditions at such restaurants), most likely my own poor penmanship is to blame. -Sigh- (I personally do not feel that taking, or even auditing, a calligraphy course were such available, could possibly help me. LoL!)

Tom said...

Peter:

No problem. Trust me, I have been called worse. :-) I went to Southwestern in Ft. Worth, 1979-82 and 83-89.

Byron:

I grew up in Beaumont and had some, uh, interesting experiences in Vidor during my years of participating in high school sports.

Byroniac said...

Dr. Ascol:

I was never that involved in sports in Vidor. I believe your experiences were probably long before my time, anyway. However, it is probably safe to say that Vidor has a reputation, often of being racist and unwelcoming (at least to certain ethnic groups). And I am not sure if that is what you are referring to or not. There are some wonderful people in Vidor, but there are bad apples there as well. I'm not sure which of the two I was (LoL!), but at any rate, I left. I may move back there one day, but if I do move back to the area, I would also strongly consider Beaumont and the surrounding towns (My problem is, I am addicted to Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and to a lesser extent, Circuit City, so I define existence in terms of proximity to those stores).

Bill0615 said...

Heath Lloyd, you stated "I am still waiting for THAT conference."

I am happy to report to you "THAT conference" meets every summer in July and is called "The Founders Conference." This summer the church were I pastor has the privilege of hosting "THAT conference." Mark your calendar now for July 11 thru 14 and join us in Owasso, Oklahoma (just 10 minutes north of the Tulsa airport) for what promises to be a wonderful time of preaching, singing, fellowship and good old fashioned encouragement.

Bill Ascol
Bethel Baptist Church
Owasso, OK

Jason E. Robertson said...

Tom,
Thanks for the exegesis of the text. This truth must be reminded to every generation. The emergents of today are as guilty as the pragmatics -- both have departed in many ways from "the law of Christ." The "even one sin" argument is very powerful and convicting. May God give us all wisdom to guide us in our pursuit of the lost!

J said...

As an ex-IMB'er (but still SBC'er) still on the field, but with another organization (resigned to marry and just couldn't put my wife through the process to re-apply:)...I say AMEN to Tom's post. The pragmatism, the form becoming function, the methodology becoming theology... its thick out here. I have actually heard IMB leadership here in East Asia use the words "whatever it takes", and I have actually been told "but look at the results".

Your post is timely, appropriate, and encourageing, especially for those of us out here who don't adhere to the one size fits all methodologies that they force feed in Richmond, VA (at the M-Learning Center).

Trusting God, not methods.

-J

J said...

As an ex-IMB'er (but still SBC'er) still on the field, but with another organization (resigned to marry and just couldn't put my wife through the process to re-apply:)...I say AMEN to Tom's post. The pragmatism, the form becoming function, the methodology becoming theology... its thick out here. I have actually heard IMB leadership here in East Asia use the words "whatever it takes", and I have actually been told "but look at the results".

Your post is timely, appropriate, and encourageing, especially for those of us out here who don't adhere to the one size fits all methodologies that they force feed in Richmond, VA (at the M-Learning Center).

Trusting God, not methods.

-J

J said...

As an ex-IMB'er (but still SBC'er) still on the field, but with another organization (resigned to marry and just couldn't put my wife through the process to re-apply:)...I say AMEN to Tom's post. The pragmatism, the form becoming function, the methodology becoming theology... its thick out here. I have actually heard IMB leadership here in East Asia use the words "whatever it takes", and I have actually been told "but look at the results".

Your post is timely, appropriate, and encourageing, especially for those of us out here who don't adhere to the one size fits all methodologies that they force feed in Richmond, VA (at the M-Learning Center).

Trusting God, not methods. Hold the coarse brother!

-J

J said...

OK...sorry for posting the same post 3 times. Gimme a break, I'm working in a developing Asian country with dialup.

peter lumpkins said...

Dr. Ascol,

When you were in SWBTS your first enrollment, I was at SBTS (more specifically Boyce). As you were winding down your second enrollment, I was in NOBTS finishing my M.Div.

I recall the infamous "Holy War" sermon preached by Dr. Roy Honeycutt @ SBTS. Interesting days those were. I am...

Peter

Jim from OldTruth.com said...

Excellent post Pastor Ascol. That was the best treatment of this passage, as it relates to todays evangelism, that I have ever read. Thank you very much.

David Young said...

Now that we have heard what the text is NOT about, I'm curious to know what Dr. Ascol believes the text IS about. He wrote that he believes there needs to be some reconsidering, so how about another post???

eklektos said...

How about this: Paul meant that he did not hold himself back from gentiles, as would have been the custom of the Jews. He didn't insist that they observe ritual washings or circumcision to be in their presence. He ate with them, entered their houses, and spoke with them. He didn't dress like Bozo the clown and shoot them out of cannons. He didn't put on a $1200 suit and spout off about the latest management guru. Is it really that hard to grasp what Paul is saying? I think not.