The question, “How is someone saved?” is possibly the most important question that has faced the church through the ages, and continues to face the church today. Of course there are other questions that come along with this, questions like “What does it mean to be saved?” or “How can I know I am saved?” or “Who needs to be saved?” or even the classic Arminian Calvinist debates on whether or not the cross has made salvation possible to all, or only the elect. Those are all questions worth asking, discussing and debating, but they are also questions that tend to lead to an impasse with few willing to budge on whatever positions they hold.
The question I want to focus on today is the first one I raised; “How is someone saved?” The most common response to this is “Put your trust in Jesus” or “make Jesus your Lord” possibly “pray and ask Jesus into your heart”, there are a myriad of other popular answers to this question as well, but most of the answers given require a decision of some sort. Now I have written against the idea of “decisional regeneration” from the scriptures a number of times, and I do not feel like rehashing that again, but so the reader understands, I strongly disagree with the idea that someone becomes a Christian by making some one-time decision to be a “follower of Jesus”. Others are very adamant about ‘making a decision’ and I do not pretend that I could convince those who are opposite me to change their view.
What I am concerned with today is not the debate over ‘decisional regeneration’, but instead the physical implications of that doctrine. Yeah, that’s right, physical, or maybe even medical implications, and ultimately how they play out in church life. When I finish posting this I will be hopping in my truck to drive to a hospice facility 45 minutes away to visit a lady who has tumors in her brain. While this woman is, in my fallible estimation, a redeemed believer, her condition raises some questions in my mind regarding the idea of ‘deciding for Christ’.
The truth is that our thought processes are physically governed by chemical reactions and electrical impulses. Now I do not simply think we are cosmic goo that merely experiences chemistry and then dies, and I most certainly believe God to be the sovereign author of our bodies and lives. Nonetheless the means of thought at the most primal level is chemical reactions and electrical impulses. So I ask a question: If salvation hinges on a decision, can one be saved while their chemical makeup and nervous system is impaired by a tumor? Or, if someone’s decision making ability is impaired by a tumor and they ‘decide’ to become Christian, does that decision count? These are valid questions for the ‘decide for Christ’ school of evangelism. Now in the case of a tumor, or mental retardation, or even in the case of infants or young children, the typical DCFE (Decide for Christ Evangelist) is willing to make exceptions. The bogus notion of ‘age of accountability’ often comes from this exception. The DCFE is typically willing to forgo this decisional method of salvation when the decision making ability is impaired by a force outside of the control of a person. In other words, if someone is unable to decide they are willing to leave it in God’s hands because of the person’s inability to decide. (Of course if you believe in total inability you leave it in God’s hands all of the time!, but that is a topic for another time.)
The question gets a little more murky when decision making impaired by situations within a person’s control. For instance if someone is jacked up on LSD and decides for Christ while seeing a vision. Is that decision valid? Yes or no? How do you determine? What if someone in a drunken stupor decides for Christ and falls away the moment they became sober… was their decision valid? And on what basis do you answer the question? Most DCFE people would simply say no, if the decision was valid the person would bear fruit after making the decision. I wouldn’t disagree with them that the genuine believer bears fruit. I think the DCFE would concede that a person who made their decision in a mentally altered state has reason to question their decision, especially if they are not bearing fruit. Yet then the DFCE to be consistent must then admit they really do not believe salvation does not actually hinge on a decision but on fruit ie “works of righteousness” (classic works righteousness).
When we consider the chemistry of the body, and how an altered state can affect the making of a decision we quickly see that there must be 10,000 exceptions to the rule for the doctrine of decisional regeneration. So why does this ‘decide for Christ’ mentality still have so many adherents?
If we honestly look at ourselves we will see that we are ALWAYS in an altered state, because our state is never static. My mind wanders more quickly to the spiritual when I am well rested and have had coffee. My mind tends to struggle to engage the spiritual when I am tired and crabby. My mind thinks one way before I eat, another way after I eat. My thoughts often seem to be mere vapor blowing whatever way the wind of life happens to be blowing at the time, constantly altering depending on my mental state.
Now if salvation is indeed a ‘decision’, then the doctrine of salvation is anchored to a cloud. A cloud that could dissipate at any moment when a different wind blows! However if indeed salvation is actually given through a decision made by us, then we are duty bound, if we love others, to create in our hearers a state of mind in which they are most able to decide for Christ. John posted a couple weeks ago about his disdain for most mega-churches, I have a slightly different take regarding them. As I see it most recent mega-churches that have experienced massive growth in the past 20 years hold to some form of decisional regeneration, moreover these churches love people, often much more than the rest of us. Their desire is that the world would be redeemed by Christ so they are going to do whatever it takes to see people redeemed. However, their ‘decide for Christ’ doctrine, is at the heart of their methodology. The evidence is clear, the lighting, the coffee, the music, the clothing, all contribute to an altered state that leaves a person more prone to ‘decide’ for Christ. The music selection, the parking lot layout, the architecture, the clothing, the screens… everything is carefully crafted to create an ‘experience’ (read altered state) that leaves people wanting to follow Christ, and ultimately wanting to make a decision. Frankly when I see these things I do not get mad, I understand it, and think that in most cases the people who drive this methodology are genuine lovers of Christ and of people. However, I believe their methodology is rooted in a tragic soteriology that affirms that people are saved by deciding for Christ.
Next week I will give a follow up post that affirms Word and Sacrament as means of Grace given to us by the decision of God apart from our deciding, and how a soteriology based entirely apart from our decision should drive a church’s praxis.