There is an unseen war raging within the church today. There are good people on both sides of the battle lines. On one side, those who believe that saving faith in Christ is as easy as a prayer, i.e. faith plus nothing. On the other, those who understand a need for there to be more.
In a phrase, the war rages over: Easy Believism.
Billy Graham once warned against Easy Believism.1 One church community called it “a fast track to Hell.”2. John MacArthur is well known for his take on the subject through the discussion of Lordship Salvation.3. Reformed Theology equates it with Semi-Pelagianism (which is quite a slam).4 Yet, there are many who point to the Bible itself as an advocate for Easy Believism. A quick Google search will yield fiery arguments on both sides.
At this point, we must recognize that is easy to get into the weeds and miss the point:
How we come to faith and live out that faith really matters… a lot.
And isn’t that really what all of this is about in the end… doing our part to ensure effectual and lifelong faith?
Even if “saying a prayer” can bring saving faith, is there any church leader that is okay with leaving a person in the birthing room of faith for the rest of their life? I think not.
Most can agree that the beginning of a journey is easy, just take the first step; it is the continuation of the journey that becomes progressively difficult. Salvation is much the same. It is easy to come to Christ, but it is a more difficult thing to align one’s life to him on a daily basis… even with the power of the Spirit.
The Early Church was rightly concerned that many would come to Christ for personal gain, mouthing faith but having none. They were also deeply concerned about admitting people into the community who had no real faith or power from the Spirit. Both types of church-goers could become a cancer that would destroy the Church from inside out. Some might say this is the issue many churches are facing today.
For the Early Church, salvation was a process of utmost importance. As such, the Church developed a system for teaching would-be converts about the faith. Amazingly, the process of discipleship and training began before conversion. Their thought? How can one truly subscribe to a faith (the Way) or a person (Christ) who they did not know or understand?
For the Early Church, salvation was a process.
To them, it did not really matter when one crossed the line of faith… what mattered was movement.
Over the years, a lengthy process developed to train, vet, and grow Christ-followers. This program was a catechism that allowed the church to embed doctrine, excite faith, and encourage relationships with stronger people of faith.
The intent of catechesis in the Early Church was more than memorization or a simple mastery of the basics. Catechesis was designed to be holistic and communal. It envisioned being a progressive process that would ultimately become lifelong in scope. Despite its historic and effective use by the early church to form faith and educate adherents in the rudiments of that faith, by the end of the Middle Ages the church had lost its way. Faith formation through the systematic catechizing of children and adults became an increasingly rare occurrence, and a church once passionate about the spiritual depth and development of its people became concerned about other things. Spiritual formation, if it happened at all, now largely took place solely through sermons, liturgy, hymnography, processions, and art. It wasn’t enough.
If Easy Believism is defined as “belief that requires little to nothing more than a prayer,” then it has taken hold in many quarters of the church and the result is a generation with weak faith. It is not that most pastors and churches desire weak faith within their congregations, quite the opposite. It is that our commendable drive for evangelism has not always been equaled with a fervent desire to see those converts become fully devoted.Intentional relational catechism courses changed the course of the Church... and human history. Click To Tweet
To combat Easy Believism, we must reconsider the Early Church’s commitment to catechism as a solution to our own faith formation woes.
To go deeper, check out: “Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way” by J.I. Packer.
PRACTICE: Compare/contrast your church’s educational and faith formation programs with the system of catechism employed by the Early Church to effectively move people from “far from God” to “fully devoted.”