Reformed Reflections

Obstacles to Conversion 

Conversion is man's response to the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ. Conversion is an important word in the Good News vocabulary. But, sad to say, this word is often misunderstood. Many regard the word with distaste. They think of unbridled religious enthusiasm and anti-intellectualism. In some circles, conversion is considered as necessary only for the down and outers, the drunks and drug addicts, but not for respectable and law-abiding citizens. 

Some feel that missions, church planting, extending the Kingdom are all expressions of old-fashioned religious imperialism and a patronizing sense of superiority. But the call to conversion Is neither compelling the lost to come Into the Kingdom through high pressure techniques nor an expression of spiritual superiority. The Dutch mlssiologist J.C. Hoskendyk insisted upon the opposite qualities: "To evangelize is to sow and wait in respectful humility and in expectant hope: in humility because the seed we sow has to die, in hope because we expect that God will quicken this seed and give it its proper body." 

Another reason for disliking the word conversion is the modern spirit of relativism. Relativism breeds universalism and syncretism. Universalism teaches that no man will ever perish. 

All will be saved. I have been told that, as long as you are sincere in your religion, you will see God. God is love. He will not let anyone perish. The notion of hell belongs to the Dark Ages. Syncretism declares that there is truth to be found In every religion. If it is true that all men are saved already, why bother calling for conversion? If truth is to be found in every religion, why paint to Christ as the only Saviour? 

The people affected by relativism feel that it is alright to proclaim Christ by word and kindly deed. (The deed is preferred over and against the Word.) But conversion should not be called for. We have to develop a cooperative relationship with other religions. The relativist either doubts or denies the finality of Jesus Christ in salvation. This modern spirit is an obstacle to the growth of missions. The outspoken Malcom Muggeridge charges the modern mission enterprise with undue timidity. He says that most contemporary Christian missionaries preface any remarks they may have to make about their work by saying that they would never dream of suggesting that Christianity is to be preferred to other religions, and look back with pitying patronage at their predecessors who took more literally the command to go and preach the gospel throughout the world. 

Why the sharp rise of syncretism and universalism? We live in a world of changed communications, rapid transportation, cross-cultural interchange. TV programs produced and broadcast in the U.S. are also watched in the Philippines. In just over 30 hours, one can fly from Manila to Toronto, Canada. We are getting acquainted with people of many different races and cultures. We learn about their art and study their literature. We see films about the way people live in different parts of the world. Western education and technology have made their Impact upon the East. But recently, Eastern religions are making their inroads in the West. Indian gurus advertise their mysticism in North American newspapers. Hare Krishna followers can be seen in the streets in the major cities of the Western world. 

How can we be aggressive in missions, if non-Christians can point to the failures, mistakes and sins of either the Church or individual Christians? Many sensitive Christians hesitate to call men to conversion. 

Should the church cease to proclaim the Gospel? If there ever was a time and opportunity to proclaim the Word, it is now. To the church has been committed the duty to beg people on behalf of Christ: "Be reconciled to God." We have the sole and urgent duty to declare to all that those outside of Jesus Christ are perishing. This is a hard message. We can never speak about the lostness of men without compassion. How can one mention hell without agony and tears? How can anyone be glib or frivolous about this awesome reality? 

If there are many paths to God, then Christians have no message to bring. If this is so, then there is no need to cross the oceans to spread the Gospel. But if Christ Is the only Saviour, despite all the richness to be found in other religions and their profound teachings, then persuading men to come to Christ is not really open to the charge of Christian imperialism or self seeking, whatever the shortcomings of the missionaries of the Gospel. 

Man needs to be converted, lest he perish. A man sound asleep in a burning house needs to be aroused and warned of imminent peril. Christ's appeal, "Turn to Me, believe in Me, and follow Me", must go forth. Scripture still says: "Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him turn to the Lord, that He may have mercy on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon." (Isaiah 55:6f.)


Johan D. Tangelder
December, 1979