A PH. D. IN CLOSING THESALE
T. PIERCE BROWN
In the 1950’s and early `60’s as I was teaching classes in Personal Evangelism, I remember spending some time on “How to change the light bulb in the projector.” There were also a few minutes of serious instruction on making sure not to put the projector in the case backwards, or with the front elevation screw extended, for one would split the hinges off the case if the teacher tried to close it that way.
Then later, when we began to use an open Bible study more extensively, we would give counsel in the advisability of trying to get seated around a table. Never, except as a last resort, sit down in the living room, lean back, cross your legs and begin discussing religious matters! I even felt it necessary to warn some of my students in training–after CERTS became available–that they would probably do well to carry a roll or two, using them at appropriate times.
Even now I am not ridiculing those things. They all may be important in their place. If you could sit down with the men who have done the most in teaching and inspiring personal evangelism, they could spend hours giving you little clues as to how you could be more effective personal evangelists in all sorts of things, from how you should approach and knock on the door to how and when you should stop the study and leave. In most cases they did not learn these things from each other or from books, but “in the field” as we put it. And many of these things, insignificant as they may seem, may make the difference in whether or not you baptize your student at the end of a particular lesson. Far be it from me to minimize the importance of doing everything we can to sharpen our spiritual swords and be more effective in the task that confronts us!
But I have noticed some trends and/or attitudes that disturb me. Most of us who spend our lives in this business of teaching believe that Jesus is the MASTER TEACHER, and it is our business to strive to teach in such a way that, as Paul puts it in Galatians 4:19, “Christ be formed in you.” We are surely not laboring under the delusion that Jesus was giving His Apostles a three year graduate course leading to a Ph. D. in “Closing theSale”!
Both the primary purpose and methods of Jesus in His intensive training course are suggested in several places in the New Testament. In Acts 4:13, we are told that “They took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus.” What was happening as they were with Jesus? Were they primarily concerned about learning the techniques of “The Approach, the Discussion and the Closing”? Were they learning the best ways to exercise effective crowd control so they could feed 5000 effectively if the need arose? Were they learning the value of “the dramatic pause” demonstrated by stooping down and writing on the ground before delivering the “coup de grace”? The fact is that they may have learned a lot about things like that, and used the principles as opportunity offered. But the primary thing they were absorbing was “the mind of Christ” — simply seeing how he felt, thought, reacted to whatever situation confronted him so they would naturally do the same kind of thing. When Paul said, I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me –” (Galatians2:20), He was not expressing what He learned about the “plan of salvation” from Ananias.
Most of us have assumed that the proper place to start with a person who needs salvation is in the book of Acts. Does not the Book of Acts tell men in clear terms the answer to one of the most important questions a man ever asked? It most certainly does. But it does not in any of the cases of conversion tell specifically what the sinners were told in addition to that point. Note carefully: In Acts 2:36 they were convinced that Jesus was Lord and Christ, without which conviction the answer of verse 38 would have been without value! Verse 40 says, “And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, `Save yourselves from this untoward generation'”. What those exact “other words” were, we do not know. In Acts 8:35, Philip “preached unto him Jesus.” In verse 12 we are told that Philip was “preaching the things concerning thekingdomofGod, and the name of Jesus Christ.” In Acts 16:32, they “spake unto him the word of the Lord.”
Do you get this very important distinction I am trying to make at this time? There is a difference in preaching the fact that Philip and Paul preached Jesus and in preaching the Jesus they preached! I do not mean to imply that it is not right and proper to teach the fact that Philip taught the Ethiopian about Jesus and then was asked the significant question in verse 36, “See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?” And it is good to point out the important fact that when Jesus is properly preached, the proper response will always be the desire to be baptized on the part of those who hear. But it is not right and proper to assume that the power of the gospel is fully exercised when we merely preach the story of Philip preaching Jesus rather than preaching Jesus ourselves!
I expect to continue telling the story of the conversions in the Book of Acts, and I trust that my readers will do likewise. But I hope the writing and reading of this article will help each of us to be more conscious that the center of New Testament Christianity is NOT the story of conversions, or why we should not use instrumental music in worship (although I strongly suspect that most congregations today need some good preaching on that subject too), but Jesus Christ and Him crucified!
This article has been written while sitting in the hallway of a medical clinic waiting for the results of some tests for a severe ear infection which has kept me in bed for most of two weeks. It may not, therefore, make as good sense as if I were in more normal surroundings. But my primary point is this: In teaching persons how to become Christians, and in teaching them to be more effective as personal or impersonal evangelists, we do a great disservice to them if we stray very far very long from the central theme of Paul as expressed in 1 Corinthians 2:2, “For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
The good news of the gracious redeeming love of Christ with emphasis from first to last to “Have this mind in you which was in Christ Jesus”(Philippians 2:5) must be in the foreground and center. Only when a person responds to the reality of that love and wants to know what God wants, should we who are active in personal evangelism begin to deal with the specific “steps” in the plan of salvation! Do you get the importance of that? If the steps are presented or understood merely as “steps in a plan” rather than specific meaningful responses to the Lordship and redeeming love of Christ, we have lost most of the battle. This is, no doubt, part of what Paul meant when he spoke of “having a form of Godliness, but denying the power thereof” (2 Timothy 3:5). Surely the power is released in these ways: 1. By so absorbing the life, nature, attitude and responses of Christ that you almost automatically respond in a Christlike way to any life situation, and 2. Reproducing this response in those you teach.
Note, in closing, a very important fact. Although we are representatives of Christ, and thus, in that sense, stand in the place of Christ to those whom we teach, we are not to teach in such a way as to reproduce our life in the life of our students. Making clones is not our business. It is true that to the extent that my life reflects the life of Christ, and the student sees specific things in my life that help him to be more Christlike, his life will be similar to mine. Yet you should note a very important point. If my life is like Christ and your life is like Christ, your life will be like mine (or mine will be like yours) because we have the same pattern, Christ. But if your life is like mine because I am your pattern, we fall into a fatal error in philosophy and procedure.
So, in conclusion, each of us should teach in personal evangelism and in all Bible classes with primary emphasis on the life, nature, mind, and work of Christ and not with primary emphasis on methods, techniques, procedures, or plans. If we do less than attempt to reproduce Christ in the lives of ourselves and our converts, we fail!