At St. Louis Missouri, a large conference/Christian event is held the last week of December. It’s a student missions conference and the name matches the year it’s held, i.e., Urbana15. This past year, David Platt and Francis Chan were featured speakers, among other 180 men and women. You may know that Mr Platt was an American pastor at a church in Alabama, but gave that up to become president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, which is an office in which he currently serves as of this writing. He is also an author, noted especially for the NY Times bestselling book Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream.
Francis Chan was a pastor of a church he founded but gave that up to become, well I don’t know what he does anymore exactly. Writes books and is an itinerant speaker I guess.
The Urbana15 promotional material listed reasons why students should attend, and one of them is to encourage students use the days between Christmas and New Year’s Day in a more sacred way. They offer seminars, speeches, workshops, counseling, exhibits, missions opportunities, etc, I’m all for that. The material also says the event is not specifically an evangelistic event, because the target demographic is Christians interested in international missions, who are between the ages of 17 and 29 (though there is no upper age limit). Their FAQ material answers the question,
IS URBANA 15 FOR NON-CHRISTIANS?
Urbana 15 is a missions conference and not specifically an evangelistic event. However, God has used Urbana to bring many people to faith in the past, and we anticipate that some non-Christians may attend Urbana 15, as well.
I am not a fan of conferences. One reason is the impersonal nature of them. Lots of people hide in plain sight at places where tens of thousands or more people gather. Pastors and teachers have a personal job in discipling and teaching in a personal way, which is impossible to do when speaking to hordes.
Also, the tendency for false doctrine and false professions of faith increase as the size increases. There is special danger in conferences aimed at women and youth. The Georgia Passion conferences aimed at youth, and conferences for women like IF:Gathering, Living Proof, Unwrap the Bible aimed at women, all host false teachers. The Bible states that youth and women have special vulnerabilities (1 Timothy 3:6, 2 Timothy 3:6, 1 Peter 3:7) so of course satan aims conferences at those demographics. At Passion, a gathering for 18-25 year olds held at three linked locations in Georgia in early January, several false teachers and singers are always on the lineup.
Worse, Passion rules forbid adults to attend, unless and only if you are a pastor accompanying the youth. Can you imagine, Paul traveling around Asia Minor, to the 7 churches, saying, ‘Send your youth to Damascus to a gathering where doctrines will be taught but you CANNOT do your job as a parent and accompany your child to see if it’s sound doctrine! And pay for the privilege!’ And then you find out that Hymenaeus and Philetus, in addition to Peter and John will be teaching in the arena. Do you think any teacher with discernment is going to stand on a stage with the false teachers in the first place? No.
Some conferences are good. Of course John MacArthur’s Shepherds Conference, the Inerrancy Conference, Strange Fire, G3 Conference, are all good. I can’t make a sweeping generality and say that ALL conferences are bad. However note that the aforementioned good conferences are aimed at men, not women or youth. They are sponsored by churches with strong doctrine. Their environment does not encourage false confessions of faith. And that is why I’m writing. The false professions.
The promo material states one of the reasons to attend Urbana15 is
… is more than its parts. Urbana is a chance to share five days with a diverse group of 16,000+ people who—like you—think carefully about their Christian faith and want to make the world a better place.
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make
the world a better place disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20).
See? Already there was a ‘going astray’ because missionaries and disciples are not called to make the world a better place. We don’t encourage Christians, especially youthful, impressionable potential missionaries, to go out and make the world a better place. The world will never be a better place until Jesus returns and restores it. Making the world a better place is not our mission on earth. That mission is stated above, in the Great Commission verse. It’s making disciples in the faith.
Knowing the event is not an evangelistic event yet the likelihood that non-Christians will be invited is a reality. If a person is really a Christian, they have a heart for the lost, and would want to invite a non-saved friend to the event. That is normal and not so much the problem. The problem is with the decisional regeneration rampant at large conferences. “Choosing to follow” or “deciding for Christ” or “inviting Jesus in” have become synonymous with the supernatural act of Godly justification. They’re not the same thing.
Let’s start with some photos from the Urbana15 event and tweets about it. At an admittedly non-evangelistic event, the Lord has caused 681 non-Christians to “make a decision of faith to follow Him”?
Is that how it works? At a light-show, non-evangelistic event, you giddily decide, follow, and commit in a horde doing the exact same thing?
Casting one’s self at the mercy of Christ upon having been given the faith to see one’s position in Christ as a hell-bound sinner is one thing. But at events like Urbana, this broken-hearted, eternity-changing regenerational moment is treated like an game at a toddler birthday party. “Here’s a glowstick, break it open if you want heaven when you die!”
I’d like to remind us all of the gravity of joining the faith. In Acts 5:12-13 we see the reality of what a large congregation of true Christians do: cause respect and fear.
At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico. 13But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem.
Why did they hesitate to join them? As John MacArthur wrote, “These unbelievers had respect for the followers of Jesus, but feared the deadly potential of joining the church.” At Solomon’s portico, not a glowstick was in sight. But there were plenty of giddy joiner-uppers at Urbana15:
Or is it more like when Jonathan Edwards preached his famous sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, he preached hell, sin, wrath, death, and the Good News. I was not present at Urbana15 but I have been present through audio at many, many modern-day conferences and sin, wrath, death, and hell are rarely preached. I doubt at Urbana did the speaker mention those necessary components of the Gospel, else the giddy throwing hat moment would have looked more like it did when confronted with our sin before a holy God as Isaiah was (“I am undone!”) and Peter (“depart from me, I am a sinful man!”) or as it did when Edwards preached, the scene recorded in Stephen Williams’ diary:
before the sermon was done there was a great moaning and crying went out through ye whole House…. ‘What shall I do to be saved,’ ‘Oh, I am going to Hell,’ ‘Oh, what shall I do for Christ,’ and so forth. So yet ye minister was obliged to desist, ye shrieks and cry were piercing and amazing.”
To demonstrate your status as a child of God in the new creation, don’t be so upset over your sin and final destination, just giddily throw your cap over a wall when you “decide”? Is that how it works? Hmmm.
Absent the gravitas, and absent (probably) the serious preaching on sin, death, hell and wrath, and absent the ability for a pastor who knows his congregation to meet with and disciple the new convert, or chooser-follower, worst of all is this. The chooser-follower, sans hat and clutching a broken glowstick, is pronounced a new Christian. See tweet:
THIS is why I am against conferences.
Given the number of false positives in the Bible, (Demas, Judas, Mrs Lot..) and given the numbers of those who believe they are saved but dreadfully discover they are not on His Day (Matthew 7:21-23), is it wise to immediately declare someone a Christian after one quick profession of faith allegedly cemented by a thrown hat and a broken glowstick? Especially since the Bible shows us it takes time for the proof, their fruit, to ripen. No. It is not wise. John 6:66 shows that many who “chose to follow” Jesus turned away when things got hard. As a matter of fact, most of them did.
But wait, evangelicalism today, as represented by the actions at conferences like Urbana15, gets worse. The gravity and solemnity of the Lord’s Table AKA communion should be utmost in people’s mind and hearts. One of two NT God-given ordinances, baptism being the other, it should only be undertaken by those who know they are saved, and have prepared their mind and heart, and have confessed of life’s daily sin, and repented, and are sure they have no stumbling block between a brother and…well you see the idea. There is a high benchmark given in the Bible to engage in this solemn occasion. But the Convention mentality of evangelicalism today makes a mockery of that by inviting one and all to partake en masse.
As for evangelicalism resulting in hordes storming the pearly gates, it is not so. Pentecost aside, it is a solitary thing. Here is John MacArthur:
That fact is implied in the text. The word “narrow” in verses 13‑14 gives the idea that the gate is very narrow. In fact, some Bible commentators say that the best contemporary expression of it would be to think of a turnstile. A person has to go through a turnstile alone; The passageway through a turnstile is very narrow; its metal arms don’t allow more than one person through at a time. Zoos, train stations, and airports have turnstiles. If a group of people are in a hurry to go in or out, they can’t go through together. They have to go through one at a time. That’s the way it is with the narrow gate. People don’t come into the Kingdom of Christ in groups.
Here is my friend Pastor Phil Andrukaitis properly preparing his flock to engage in communion.
Good day my FB friends.
As another new year is upon us, so is the first “Fellowship of the Lord’s Supper” for 2016 within the Christian community of faith. This sacred act of worship [commonly identified as “The Lord’s Supper,” “Communion,” “Breaking Bread,” “The Lord’s Table”] is a worshipful remembrance of Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross for our sins. Moreover, Christians are told to continue on with this worshipful act until Jesus returns, implying that Jesus rose from the dead.
For those individuals who have been “born-again” by the Spirit of God and the Word of God, they are experiencing a new relationship with God, as sinners “saved by the grace of God.” They are no longer estranged from God.
Why? Here are four, glorious reasons: God has acted on behalf of sinners through Jesus first, by turning away His divine wrath from sinners and directed His wrath upon Jesus. Second, Jesus has paid our sin debt because we cannot; sinners like you and me are spiritually bankrupt. Third, God the Father has declared sinners “not guilty” because Jesus took upon Himself our guilt and shame as He was crucified on the cross. Finally, God the Father has reconciled sinners to Himself through His Son. Therefore, there is no other way for sinners to be saved. Faith in Christ’s atoning work and resurrection from the dead is the only way to be saved.
Therefore, as the Christian community gathers to worship God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son of God, through the ministry of God the Holy Spirit, may each local church family take the time [at least the day before celebrating Communion] to prepare their hearts. In other words, before the Lord’s Supper is administered, may the brethren of a Christian fellowship beg forgiveness of others for the wrongs they have committed. After all, “nobody who avoids this approach to his brother can go rightly prepared to the table of the Lord.” [Bonhoeffer]
There is great joy in the presence of the angels of God when one sinner repents. Imagine the great joy in heaven when local fellowships whose relationships are fractured by sin and are on the verge of collapse, repent and cry out to God and others for forgiveness?
God intended for His Table to be an occasion of great joy for the Christian community, not another religious act tacked on at the end of a service. Oh that God’s people would truly seek to be reconciled with one another and with Him. Please, for the sake of God’s name, for the sake of the fellowship, and for the sake of your own soul, begin preparing your heart now. Do not wait until Sunday morning, especially while sitting in the worship service. Start now.
So that is why I do not like conferences especially aimed at women and youth. Since we are especially vulnerable we must be especially vigilant. If you are a woman or a youth or a parent of a youth, Christiany-sounding conferences might seem like a good idea on the surface. To cull from the herd the weaker members to bring them a place where there isn’t proper oversight and often is much false teaching, is counterintuitive to biblical commands. Large conferences are places where sound teaching is often absent, where the necessary solemn atmospheric mood cannot be adequately instilled, where professions are pronounced instantly genuine, where conversions cannot adequately nurtured in timeliness or in depth, where the solemnity of the ordinances are are not maintained, and where rather than reverence, silliness and giddiness prevails.
Avoid them. Take a small group ministry trip if you must, but thoroughly vet it before-hand. It is better to stay locked into your local fellowship where accountability and oversight are more rigorous. Weep and mourn the carnival atmosphere that surrounds Christianity and be an Ezra, weeping and pleading for the people:
“O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. 7 From the days of our fathers to this day we have been in great guilt.” (Ezra 9:7a)