"THE DANGERS OF AN UNCONVERTED MEMBER"
1. Turn in your Bible to Psalm 41.9. When you find that verse in God's Word please stand for the reading of this morning's Scripture text: "Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me."
2. This verse immediately refers to the betrayal of David by his long trusted friend and advisor, Ahithophel, to his rebellious son Absalom. Prophetically, this verse is most fully and completely fulfilled by the betrayal of the Lord Jesus Christ by that traitor, Judas Iscariot, which the Savior anticipated during the last supper when He said, in John 13.18, "I speak not of you all: I know whom I have chosen: but that the scripture may be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me."
3. As important as was the betrayal of David by Ahithophel, and as was the scurrilous betrayal of our precious Lord by Judas Iscariot, I would like to beg your leave this morning to bring a message that is an application of our text, in a sermon titled "The Dangers Of An Unconverted Member."
4. It's a great tragedy that no one has ever written a book on the subject of the dangers of an unconverted Church member. And it's an even more tragic omission that men preparing for the ministry are never warned of the dangers of an unconverted member. But I would like to take a small step toward rectifying that omission this morning, under three headings.
1A. FIRST, THE DANGERS ILLUSTRATED
Allow me, if you will, to illustrate this real threat and danger on three different levels:
1B. First, There Is The Danger To The Member Himself
1C. What happens in a Church whose pastor makes no distinctions between sheep and goats, who never even considers the possibility of wolves in sheep's clothing being in his flock? Do pastors think such a thing is not possible, that it never happens, and that it's not dangerous?
2C. Consider the danger to the unconverted church member. With each sermon he hears, with each lesson he is taught, his store of wrath against the day of judgment is only increased. With each passing Church service and with the ticking of the clock he moves ever closer to his exit from time and his entrance to eternity, and God's wrath, which is Hellfire.
3C. As Jesus declared it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah than for Capernaum and Chorazin on judgment day, so it will be more tolerable for some wicked reprobate who has never set foot inside a Church auditorium than for an unconverted Church member.
4C. Why? Though the Sodomites committed greater sins than those of Capernaum, and though those wicked people out there have committed greater sins than an unconverted Church member may have, they have sinned against less light of truth. Much more horrible will be the punishment meted out to the unsaved Church member than any terrorist or murderer, because of the light of truth you have been exposed to, the grieving of the Spirit of God you are guilty of, that they in all their sinfulness have never been guilty of.
2B. Next, There Is The Danger To The Church Of The Unconverted Member
1C. The unconverted member, after all, is not a new creature in Christ. Old things are not passed away in his life. All things are not become new in the life of the unconverted member. He is not indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God.
2C. Therefore, the unconverted member cannot possibly exhibit the fruit of the Spirit. He cannot have the peace of mind and heart, the joy unspeakable and full of glory, the faithfulness in service and ministry and giving, the love that binds together members of the family of God, the gentleness and the goodness, and those other personality characteristics the Holy Spirit gradually produces in the lives of those Church members who are converted.
3C. What a drag on the spiritual life and condition of the Church. How diminished will be the financial and material resources available, because the unregenerate members will not give tithes and offerings. And how fruitless must the unconverted be when it comes to pitching in and participating with the converted members in reaching the lost.
4C. And this is not even considering the consequences when the unconverted members, who are virtual pawns of the devil and subject to his every whim and fancy, are manipulated and twisted against the truth and against the Savior and against God's man to actively and energetically cause trouble.
5C. My friends, it's unconverted Church members who lead Church splits and who lead astray immature Christians, as Jude 19 reveals: "These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit."
6C. So, in addition to draining the spiritual energy and vitality of a Church in much the same way a parasite greatly weakens the host animal it feeds off of, unconverted members are those who can rise up in a moment of crisis to betray and to divide and to destroy the effectiveness of a Church for years . . . if the Church ever fully recovers at all.
3B. Third, The Unconverted Church Member Is A Great Danger To The Lost
And this danger is seen in two ways:
1C. First, the lost look at Church members and many times see only hypocrisy. Now, typically, they are looking at unconverted Church members, as is the case with the vast majority of Church members in our country. But the damage is real. Folks, my own father was completely put off by Christianity as the direct result of growing up and in his young adulthood being in close proximity to Church members who were not converted. He could tell there was nothing real and vital and genuine about them, and he responded to them with cynicism and became a scorner. The same is true with my brother, whose wife started going to a Church whose pastor actually laid hands on farm animals to heal them and cast demons out of them. Nuts.
2C. But there is an even more subtle danger from unconverted members. An unconverted member lives his life at a relatively low spiritual level. Thus, he sets a very poor example of spirituality and godliness for those around him to see. And when a young professing Christian becomes concerned that he may not, in fact, be converted? The unconverted member will assure him that he is converted and that everything's all right. Or by his own lousy life and inconsistent Christianity he will convince the lost that "If he's saved I must be saved, too." I would hate to be an unconverted dad who convinced his unconverted son that he was saved. I would hate to be a lost Church member mom who convinced her unbelieving daughter that "If mom's a Christian then so am I."
3C. So you see, if you have a high view of salvation, and if you really do believe that the lost go to Hell and suffer eternal torment, then you can readily see how incredibly dangerous unconverted members are . . . to themselves, to the Church and the cause of Christ in general, and to the lost around them.
2A. NEXT, THE DANGER EXPUNGED
Every congregation faces the danger of unconverted Church members. And in many cases, because the unconverted are quite ambitious and they have been known to patiently strive over the years to position themselves in important and crucial offices and areas of ministry, they can do incredible damage. Facing these realities, how are these unconverted members removed from a Church?
There are two types of removal, providential and purposeful.
1B. The Providential Removal Of An Unconverted Church Member Occurs When He Just Leaves
1C. Now, sometimes he will leave because he's been prayed out and at other times he will leave for other human level reasons. Sometimes the pastor will want this guy to leave, because he's come to be convinced the guy will never get converted and is a growing threat to the genuinely converted members, and at other times the Lord will just move the guy out though the pastor wants him to stay.
2C. But no matter what human level reasoning lies back of an unconverted member's departure, there are two verses in God's Word that explains the reason for the departure from God's perspective.
3C. Jude 19, which we have already read, and which certainly applies to a Church split, also explains a solitary departure: "These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit." To separate means to leave. The Spirit of God creates unity. So, when the Spirit of God is not present there is a parting of company, a departure, a leaving. And among contemporary so-called Christians, this reality is masked by transferring to another Church.
4C. Another passage, which I would very much like you to turn to, is First John 2.19: "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us."
5C. Listen to what John MacArthur, who I disagree with about many things but who is absolutely correct on this verse, says in his study Bible comment on this verse: "They arise from within the church and depart from true fellowship and lead people out with them. This verse also places emphasis on the perseverance of the saints. Those genuinely born again endure in faith and fellowship and the truth. The ultimate test of true Christianity is endurance. The departure of people from the truth and the church is their unmasking."
6C. Now do you know why I have a problem with former Church members who have left, and why I do not want you to maintain a relationship with them as though they were not dangerous to you and to your families? I will not cast about and condemn those who have left, but I promise you that you only rarely know what the real conditions are that led to a former member's departure. Be friendly. Be careful. Be distant. Because I can't protect you from those who are no longer here. And protecting you from spiritual danger is my responsibility before God.
2B. This, Then, Is When God Moves Someone Out Who Is Not Converted. But There Are Other Situations In Which It Is God's Will For Us To Purposely Move Someone Out Who Is Not Converted
1C. An obvious example would be the Corinthian fornicator, or some member who is covetous, or who is an idolater, or who's a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner, First Corinthians 5.11.
2C. And the Scriptural authority we are given to deal with such Church members comes from the Savior, Himself, in Matthew 18.15 and following.
3C. So, there are two obvious ways in which the unconverted Church member is removed. First, God providentially removes him, because he has not committed so flagrant a sin that the Church can take appropriate action. Or the unconverted member commits one of the flagrant sins listed by Paul, and we obediently take steps to protect other members, and our Church's testimony, from such a person's negative influence by dismissing him from our Church.
3A. AS DANGEROUS AS UNCONVERTED MEMBERS ARE TO THEMSELVES, AND TO THE CHURCH, AND TO THE LOST, YOU'D THINK PASTORS AND CHRISTIANS WOULD BE EAGER TO PREVENT UNCONVERTED PEOPLE BECOMING MEMBERS.
If you thought that you'd be wrong. All across America I have talked to pastors about unconverted members, but have found only a handful who show genuine concern about this problem, even though few will dispute that most Church splits are caused by unconverted members, and though few will dispute how discouraging it is to new Christians when a Church member just up and moves away. Up and leaving just seems wrong, unless you've been brainwashed into thinking it's normal and routine Christian behavior. It's normal and routine behavior, all right, but not normal and routine Christian behavior.
So, what's to be done to prevent unconverted people from becoming members? The problem cannot be solved entirely, but there are two relatively simple steps that could be taken by every Church and every pastor who's willing to take a courageous stand to protect his flock from this type of harm.
1B. First, Consider Man's Nature
1C. Most Baptists in the United States trace their theological roots back to the Calvinistic Baptists in England, even if they don't subscribe to the Calvinistic system of theology in its entirety. That means, most Baptists in this country at least give lip service to the doctrine of the inherited depravity of the sinner. But I contend that most Baptists in this country do not actually apply their theology to their practice.
2C. Consider: Jeremiah 17.9 declares that a sinner's heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. But who do you know who actually believes that verse enough to suspect sinners of lying to them when they claim to be Christians, and attempting to deceive them so they can become Church members?
3C. Infiltration has been a strategy used by almost every nation in conflict with other nations since the time Sun Tzu wrote his classic "The Art Of War," before the time of Christ. But there are still pastors who have never even thought it possible that Satan would want to infiltrate into Christ's congregations lost people, to weaken and to degrade congregations and to foment rebellion within the ranks.
4C. My friends, there is no possible way to address this severe problem in Churches everywhere unless and until pastors and people begin to seriously consider the nature of the sinners they are dealing with, capable of lies and deceit, even self-deception, to get what they want.
2B. But You Have To Go Farther Than Merely Considering The Nature Of Those You Are Dealing With. In Order To Screen Out Those Unconverted From The Converted As Best You Can You Have To Actually Compare Their Testimonies And Lives With Scripture.
1C. After all, we Baptists claim to stand on the principle of a regenerate Church membership. Amen? And we have historically insisted on baptizing only converts, have we not? Do we not criticize the Protestants and the Catholics for baptizing unsaved people?
2C. As well, does not Peter say something along this line? Yes, he does. In First Peter 3.15 we read the following words: "be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear."
3C. Therefore, it is imperative that anyone who seeks to come into this Church be ready to provide for us a reasonable answer as to why we should think he is truly converted, beyond some mindless questions like "Are you are Christian?" and "Are you sure?"
1. In God's Word there is a principle by which facts are to be accepted as true. I suppose you could call it the two or three witnesses rule. It's a safeguard against accepting the testimony of any single individual about anything that's truly important.
2. In Deuteronomy 19.15 we find these words: "at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established."
3. As well, the Lord Jesus Christ said, "If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true. There is another that beareth witness of me; and I know that the witness which he witnesseth of me is true," in John 5.31-32.
4. And finally, listen to what is found in First John 5.7-8: "For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one."
5. So, whether it be on earth or in heaven, under the Law of Moses or in the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, the rule of two or three witnesses still applies, with God as well as with men.
6. The present danger of unconverted Church members is the direct result of abandoning the Biblical principle of two or three witnesses to corroborate a fact. Therefore, I call on you and Churches everywhere to get back to this Bible principle as quickly and as thoroughly as possible.
7. Now, brother Isenberger will come and lead us in singing before this morning's sermon.
1. Because of the length of my exposition my sermon will be quite brief. And it isn't really a sermon as most sermons are fashioned, as you will see.
2. In my exposition I mentioned that there are two ways in which the danger of unconverted members in a Church are expunged, are removed. The first way is God's providential dealings, whereby He moves a person out for one reason or another.
3. The second way is a Church's purposeful dealings, whereby a congregation responds to serious sins committed by a Church member and removes him until he repents and makes restitution. And this second way very effectively removes an unconverted member, who simply cannot properly repent and make restitution until he actually gets converted.
4. But there is a third way of dealing with unconverted Church members, and it's the way I have chosen to deal with the vast majority of our Church members since we began to move away from decisionism a number of years ago.
5. This third way is to preach as hard as I can, to pray for you by name, and to wait for God to deal with you about your own spiritual welfare. After all, unless God begins to bother you about being lost it's unlikely that you will ever be converted for real.
6. Therefore, so long as a Church member who was unconverted didn't try to rock the boat and didn't create too many problems of an obvious nature, I have kept myself to preaching and praying, preaching and praying, because I don't want any of you to leave. I want you to stay here and come to Christ and live out your life in service to God here. You see, I love you.
7. And though I'm not about to change this approach to dealing with the remaining lost Church members here at Calvary Road, I am convinced that God uses means to accomplish His goals. So this morning I want to prod you a bit.
8. I want you to become a bit uncomfortable, because some of you here remain unconverted and I want to see you saved. So let me ask you four questions, questions for you to answer in the depths of your own heart and soul, questions I hope will lead you to consider and ponder the reality of your own Christianity.
1A. AS TO YOUR CONSCIENCE - IS YOUR CONSCIENCE SEARED?
1B. I Ask This Question Because I Want To Know If You Are Still Tender, If Your Conscience Can Still Be Pricked, Or If You Have Crossed The Deadline And Have Committed The Unpardonable Sin And Are Quite Beyond The Reach Of The Gospel.
2B. You See, When Saul of Tarsus Was On His Way To Damascus The Lord Jesus Christ Appeared To Him And Asked Him If It Was Hard to Kick Against The Pricks. That Was The Prodding Of The Holy Spirit, The Jabbing And Sticking Of Saul's Conscience, Since He Had Heard Stephen's Sermon Before He Was Martyred.
3B. Well, That's What I Want You To Consider. When I Preach God's Word To You Do You Get Stuck With The Sword Of The Spirit, Which Is The Word Of God? Are You Still Sensitive Enough To Feel The Sting Of The Truth? Or Are You Past Feeling? Are You Like One Of Those Whose Conscience Is Seared With A Hot Iron, First Timothy 4.2? Are You One Of Those Who Is Past Feeling, Ephesians 4.19?
4B. The Reason I Ask Is Because, If Your Conscience Is Seared It's Almost Certainly Too Late For You. You Might As Well Not Come Anymore. You're Just Making Hell Hotter For Yourself By Continuing To Come To Church While Refusing To Come To Christ.
2A. AS TO CONVICTION - IS THE HOLY SPIRIT WORKING?
1B. For Any Sinner To Be Saved The Ministry Of The Holy Spirit Is Required. The Lord Jesus Christ Said As Much In John Chapter 3. But The Way The Holy Spirit Is Involved In A Sinner's Life Is Told Us In John 16.8, Were Jesus Told Us The Holy Spirit "will reprove the world of sin." That Word "Reprove" Means To Convince Someone Of Wrongdoing, To Convict Them.
2B. Does The Holy Spirit Do This To You From Time To Time, When God's Word Is Preached? Because If He Doesn't Do This To You It Is Not Possible For You To Be Converted. It Is Simply Not Possible That You Will Get Saved Apart From The Holy Spirit Drawing You In Some Way, Usually By Reproving, By Convicting You.
3B. But There Are Those Who Have So Grieved The Spirit Of God, Who Have So Resisted For So Long, Who Have Pouted And Whined, Who have Whimpered And Refused To Mature Emotionally For So Long, That The Holy Spirit Has Left You Never To Return; Because You Won't Face The Truth Of The Gospel.
4B. That's Why I Ask If The Holy Spirit Still Convicts You When You Sit Under Preaching. If He Does You'd Better Move Fast, And Quit Delaying. You Don't Know When He Will Finally Stop Dealing With You. Remember, God Said "My Spirit shall not always strive with man."
3A. THIRD QUESTION: AS TO CONSISTENCY - IS YOUR LIFESTYLE CHRISTIAN?
1B. It Was In Antioch That The Unsaved Gentiles Of That City First Called Believers Christians. Apart From What You Call Yourself, If Some Observer Took Note Of What You Do And How You Act, Would You Be Thought By That Observer To Be A Christian?
2B. Remember, It Was A First And Second Century Heresy That Believed There Was Little Or No Connection Between What A Man Was And The Way He Acted. That Heresy Was Called Gnosticism, The Belief That Knowledge Of Truths And Facts Was The Important Thing, Disconnected From The Way A Person Lived His Life, Leading To A Wicked Style Of Life.
3B. But Hebrews Declares That Without Holiness No Man Shall See The Lord. And The Holiness Of God Demands Holiness From His People. So, Though I Am No Way Asking You If You Are Sinlessly Perfect, Since Perfectionism Is Not Taught In God's Word, And Since I Am No One To Throw Rocks At Anyone For Not Being Sinlessly Perfect, I Am Asking If You Are A New Creature In Christ. Are You Born Again, As Evidenced By The Way You Live?
4B. You See, Friend, If Your Conscience Is Not Pricked, And If The Spirit Of God Does Not Convict You Of Your Sins, Yet You Live No Life That Even The Wicked Would Label As Christian, Then You Are In Serious Straits.
5B. Even The Most Cursory Reading Of The Bible Reveals That There Are Earmarks Of The Christian That Are Necessarily Found In Every Christian's Life. Regular And Faithful Church Attendance, A Prayer Life, Witnessing, Faithful Giving Of Tithes And Offerings, Reading God's Word. These Things Are To The Christian Like Eating And Breathing. They're Necessary.
6B. But Most Of These Things Are Missing From Your Life, Aren't They? And That's What Causes In Me Such Great Concern For Your Soul. I Close With This Final Question:
4A. AS TO CONVERSION - IS YOURS SCRIPTURAL?
1B. Has Your Personal Testimony Of How You Were Converted Ever Been Carefully Examined? Remember, If You Are Lost Your Own View Of Conversion Is Necessarily Distorted And Wrong. That's Why A Person's Testimony Needs Careful Consideration. Which Is Why Asahel Nettleton, When Asked By His Best Friend A Short Time Before His Death If He Could Do Anything For Him, Said "Examine Me." And His Friend, Being A Friend And Skilled Pastor, Did Just That.
2B. Some Things Are Simply Too Important To Leave To Chance. And Some Things Are Simply Too Important To Do Your Way. Proverbs 14.12: "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death." The Salvation Of Your Soul Is One Of Those Things.
1. When a lost person becomes a Church member he ends up becoming a beloved friend to a lot of people. But so long as that lost person is lost it will be a matter of time before he, though he be beloved, though he be trusted, lifts up his heel against his friends, against his Church, against the Lord Jesus Christ.
2. You see, eventually your true nature will expose itself, and possibly in a catastrophic way. So, the only way everyone benefits is by you being genuinely converted.
3. I'm basically finished with my dissertation now. So I have much more time on my hands than I've had for the last six months. And I would be greatly privileged to sit down and talk to you about what you must do as a lost person, in the hopes that you will actually come to know my Savior.
4. I await your call. Should you want to talk to me after we dismiss, please step into the conference room.