Jesus is seen as a wide, obvious gate
The way that the post-modern church teaches, the gate is not very narrow. There are several common practices in the modern church that seem to provide a wide open gate.
Salvation through baptism is a very wide gate
In some denominations, we see this in the doctrine of salvation through baptism. This teaching suggests that simple baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will do what is necessary to get us saved.
My wife was taught in one of her seminary classes that baptizing an unconscious man at a car accident, just before he died, would save him. Maybe. But there is no scriptural evidence for this. In fact, scripture says that you must repent and be baptized. Baptism is not a magic act of power. It is the result of an adult decision.
Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. [Acts 2:37–38 ESV]
We find the same in the Gospels
He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. [Mark 16:16]
Here we see that belief is what is required. In reading the following verses from Paul about the requirements for salvation, we see that baptism is not even mentioned.
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. [Romans 10:9 ESV]
“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” [Acts 16:31 ESV]
Baptism is certainly important. Jesus told John the baptist that He needed to be baptized to fulfill all righteousness. But there is no evidence that baptism provides salvation, it is a ceremonial event of public proclamation and a ritual of cleansing. It can be a wonderful way for new believers to cement their relationship in the kingdom.
Be careful of doctrines
Wrangling about doctrines is not something we want to do. I’ve talked in other books about the essential nature of baptism and my lack of scriptural certainty about the method of that baptism. All that is clear is that you must be baptized after you believe. It’s an exercise in obedience. If you have any personal concerns about whether your baptism was real or not, get dunked—fully immersed—as an adult. However, I know many true believers who only have a baby sprinkling—and I have seen everything in between those limits.
What is clear is that a belief in Jesus is essential. We must believe He is who He said He is. But we must be talking about something more than that also. What do we do with a scripture like this?
You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. [James 2:19 NIV]
The key to this confusion seems to be in a portion of the Romans verse we quoted above—if you confess with your mouth. Demons may believe it, but they will certainly never confess it as truth (unless forced to do so). But then that is problematical also. Some people are saved in the privacy of their home with no one there but the Lord.
The altar call is another wide gate
Another seemingly wide gate is the public profession/altar call doctrine. If you are not familiar with this, the basic idea is that you can say a simple prayer, asking Jesus to come into your heart, and you are saved—no matter what you do or how you live. The belief is that if you confess it publicly, it is magic. But we all know that is not true.
How many people do you know who came down front to an altar call, prayed the sinner’s prayer, and nothing happened? I know many people like that. The most common figures are that somewhere between 6% & 10% of people who come down for an altar call become church members. As we will talk about in a bit, becoming a church member has little to do with entering the Kingdom of God. There are no statistics about true conversions resulting from an altar call. It may be only a percent or two.
Let’s look at Billy Graham’s own beliefs about the people who came forward during his crusades. He had a formula that looks like this:
But look at this quote: “According to Kel Richards, National Coordinator for BGEA Australia, on the 1994 Christian Life and Witness Course video made for Australian BGEA counselors, only 2 percent of conversions take place during the sermon, 48 percent during counseling and 50 percent sometime during follow-up. When the previously cited 25 percent salvation rate is applied to these statistics, Graham’s formula for success looks even better. If only a sermon is provided, just one half of one percent of decisions will be effective. If a sermon plus altar counseling is provided, twelve and a half percent of decisions will be effective. If a sermon plus altar counseling plus follow-up is provided, twenty-five percent of decisions for Christ will be effective.”
The obvious problem is that in most churches presently doing a weekly altar call, there is no counseling and no follow-up, so we are looking at one out of two hundred people who come forward actually end up born again—statistically. It seems as if this gate is not nearly as wide as it seems to be. And then there are the churches who do not use altar calls.
Church membership: Is this a gate at all?
Though many people define themselves by the church to which they belong, this is certainly not a gate. You cannot get a membership in the true church. Membership drives will not give a church growth.
There are several fallacies we are dealing with in this area. First of all, pastors cannot produce members. They are not responsible for church growth. A pastor is a shepherd. He or she is called to care for the sheep—to feed them, care for them, nurse them, help them, and enable them.
But think about it. How is a shepherd supposed to produce more sheep? That whole concept approaches bestiality. Sheep beget sheep. A ram and a ewe make lambs which grow into sheep.
But in the Kingdom it is even more strange than that, for sheep are born not of man but of God. A person becomes a sheep by accepting the true shepherd—Jesus. Jesus causes the birth of the new lamb. Jesus brings growth to the church.
What about mega-churches?
I’m not sure what to do with this modern phenomenon. I’ve never been a part of one which truly preached the Gospel. I’m not saying that it isn’t possible—just that I have had no experience with one. I see a few on TV which seem to walk the walk, but I’ve never attended one of those churches and lived among them. The megachurches I’ve attended were major problems and more like a cancer than healthy growth.
The key is always going to be personal ministry. If people are introduced to Jesus and discipled by mature believers, wonderful, powerful things are certainly possible. My concern is the likelihood of doing this in our current politically correct state of confusion.
So what is really the criteria by God?
If baptism won’t do it for sure, and public confession is not always enough, and even demons believe that Jesus is the Son of God, what is God looking for? What we are left with is a simple truth. The gate is quite a bit narrower than we are commonly taught.
As we continue in this series (while I am writing my new book, The Narrow Gate) I deeply desire your involvement and comments. What do you think is going on here? In Mankato? In America?