Tuesday, January 03, 2006

History of the "Group Conversion" doctrine

Yesterday's Herescope post contained a recent example of the neoevangelical doctrine that claims that GROUPS can be converted, not just individuals.

Today's post tells some interesting history behind this doctrine. This excerpt below comes from John E. Ashbrook's excellent history and critique of neoevangelicalism entitled New Neutralism II: Exposing the Gray of Compromise (Here I Stand Books, 1992), p. 24-25. This excerpt is from a chapter explaining the key role that Fuller Theological Seminary has played in propagating and disseminating neoevangelical doctrines.

"At this point, enter Donald McGavran. In 1965, when he was contacted by Fuller, McGavran was a Disciples of Christ minister operating a program he called the Institute for Church Growth, at a Disciples of Christ college. He was encouraged to merge his operation with Fuller Seminary in what became the School of World Mission and Institute for Church Growth. McGavran was to produce a dramatic change in missionary thinking at Fuller.

"Early Mass Evangelism

"Before we get to that change, let me recall a character from medieval church history. Vladimir was a pagan prince who decided that his dominions should have an official religion. He sent his servants to look over various religions to see what was available. The group sent to Constantinople made a strong case for what they saw there. Consequently, Vladimir the missionary ordered the mass baptism of the Russian people into Russian Orthodoxy, the consequences of his action still survive. When people, at the end of a sword, are faced with baptism or death, they usually come up with the right answer. Donald McGavran's philosophy of missions was not quite the same, but there were similarities. As you read the following paragraph from Marsden's Reforming Fundamentalism, p. 241, you will see the parallel:

"In McGavran's view, then, missionaries should concentrate on 'discipling' whole peoples. In contrast to traditional evangelical concepts, such discipling did not involve leading each church member to a documentable conversion experience. Rather, more in tune with the open-church tendencies of twentieth-century liberal Christians or the methods of Christian advance in the early middle ages, all the missionary should require for 'discipling' a people was that they collectively agree to abandon their old religion, to identify with Christ, and to claim the Bible as their authority and the church as their institution. The evangelical aversion to 'mass produced' conversions and the demands for 'solid foundations' of Christian maturity as a precondition for admitting individuals to church membership were, in McGavran's view, the standards of 'ice-age missions.'"

"Corporate Salvation?

"On Paul's missionary journies the gospel was preached to Jew and Gentile. The Holy Spirit brought certain individuals under conviction. Those individuals confessed their sins and cried out to Christ. Individual baptisms followed. Those individuals became the foundation of a local church, and elders were chosen in each individual church.

"I am certain that you did not miss the word, 'individual,' in that last paragraph. True missionary work, from Bible days to Fuller Seminary, had always meant leading individuals 'to a documentable conversion experience.' The new mission theory would not be individual, but corporate. It would only require heathen cultural groups to (1) 'collectively agree to abandon their old religion'; (2) 'to identify with Christ'; (3) 'to claim the Bible as their authority'; (4) (to claim) 'the church as their institution'. This would allow whole cultural groups to be counted Christian. It would use the services of anthropologists, computors, demographics. It could make common cause with apostate missions, which already thought that way. It would make missions of the past obsolete. Oh yes, it seems hard to fit, 'Ye must be born again,' into this scheme."

The Truth:

The current mission hype, which is getting louder every day because of "collaborations" between global mission agencies and other entities, claims that there will be "accelerated conversion rates" in the near future the closer they are to fulfilling the Great Commission mandate. It is obvious from this quotation above, and yesterday's post, that one can claim massive "conversions" if the formula and methods above are employed. If entire "people groups" can simply make a "decision" for "Christ" then huge numbers of supposed converts can be plugged into the global mission databanks.

But this is not what biblical conversion is all about. True conversion is a matter between an individual and God. Acts 3:19 says, "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord."

Tragically, many of these "converts" may have never experienced true repentance and the joy of having their sins forgiven.