Lewis Sperry Chafer’s book, True Evangelism, although written almost a century ago, remains surprisingly relevant to our Christian culture today. This seems to be due, in part, to the continuing threats against the work of evangelism from within the church. More specifically, the threat of accepting unnecessary and unbiblical responsibility for the conversion of another man’s soul remains prominent throughout Christianity. Chafer repeatedly counters this emphasis on human effort and reminds us that “no human effort is effectual apart from the power of God”. In fact, the salvation of mankind is a “divine undertaking”.
Although Chafer admits that God can use wrong methods of evangelism, he also warns of the dangers when overemphasis is placed on our role in this divine work of mercy. These dangers include the manipulation of a person’s action without an emphasis on the conversion of the heart. As a result, the public steps often required of evangelists can become a meritous act required of the listener in order that they may secure their own salvation. Even further, when an individual assumes this personal responsibility for their own salvation, their assurance of salvation is never firm because, fundamentally, it depends on a cause-effect relationship with God. In other words, “If I do certain meritous acts, then God will bless me with His mercy and deliverance”. Perhaps the greatest danger of this false assurance is the discredit it brings to the work of the Holy Spirit which is relegated to a subtle and secondary role in the work of salvation and the ongoing protection of the believer in Jesus Christ. Salvation, as Chafer emphasis, is not conditioned upon any human act such as prayer, repentance, reformation, profession or “seeking the Lord”. Instead, salvation is wholly the work of God and is demonstrated by a voluntary turning from all hope based on self merit and trusting God to do a perfect saving work based only on the merit of Christ.
Yet the divine initiative does not absolve us from the privilege of cooperating with the work of the Spirit in another person’s life. Chafer redirects the reader from a position of “pleading with souls” to a responsibility of “pleading for souls”. He emphasizes this important role of prayer in the life of a believer and goes as far as to say that the work of God in salvation is conditioned on the prayers of His people. In fact, Chafer suggests that a lack of Holy Spirit conviction is likely correlated to a lack of prayer in the lives of those who have trusted Jesus. All hindrances to the movement of God in salvation, as Chafer sees them, are due to some failure on the human side. Yet, this perspective seems to contradict his earlier statements where salvation is seen wholly as a work of God. Even further, Chafer admits that God can, in fact, work through wrong methods. Therefore, it seems inconsistent to on the one hand teach the sovereignty of God, yet on the other hand, condition His activity on the human obligation to prayer.
With that being said, the importance of prayer should not be discounted all together. If for no other reason, we should pray as a response of obedience to the example and instruction of Jesus (Mt. 6:5-9, Mark 1:35) as well as the Apostles (Acts 2:42). Even Jesus prayed for the salvation of the soldiers who crucified him when he said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Clearly, we are to humble ourselves and go before the Lord in prayer, recognizing His sovereign control of all things, and seeking to cooperate with His holy work in another person’s life. Perhaps prayer has as much to do with the heart of the one praying as it does for the one for whom he is bringing before God.
This may be more of Chafer’s point as he closes his book with an emphasis on the “cleansing of the priest”. Here he elaborates on the importance of the purity of the believer priest as he approaches God through prayer. More to the point, Chafer teaches that “there is no prevailing power in prayer or effectiveness in ministry so long as the believer’s sin and defilement are not put away”. Therefore, our prayers can be hindered by our disobedience (1 Peter 3:7), and our disobedience can distract us from cooperating with the work of the Spirit in the lives of those who have not trusted Christ. For this reason, we should make every effort to remain in undefiled fellowship with our Father, through the forgiveness made possible by the Son, so that we might cooperate with the work of the Spirit in order to bring about the salvation of mankind.
Chafer’s balance of the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of His people remains as a relevant message for the church today. His book, True Evangelism, is a Biblically base classic that should impact us in such a way that we are humbled by the power and grace of God and encouraged to join Him in His great work of salvation. What a blessing it is to suffer with Christ as a tool in the hands of God.