False conversions are a serious problem that could lead not only to the "suicide of the church" but also to the defaming of God's name, an evangelical pastor warned.
Mark Dever, senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., told some 8,000 ministers Tuesday at the Together for the Gospel conference that he fears there are thousands, if not millions, of people in churches who are not truly converted.
"My fellow pastors, could it be that many of our hearers each week aren't saved, even many of our members?"
The problem isn't just the "occasional hypocrite lost in unrepentant sin," but "systems that seem to produce false converts – not just one man, but whole congregations," he lamented.
While some may brush off the problem as inevitable and one that pastors should not worry too much over, Dever sought to underscore how false conversions could dim the light of the church.
More importantly, "false conversions obscure God's plan" – which he described as God doing all things for the glory of His name.
The Southern Baptist preacher described false converts as those indistinguishable from the world and who don't hold to certain Scriptural truths.
A big source of the problem, he named, is false teachers, and that includes "health and wealth" preachers.
"We need to know that we can teach the wrong things with disastrous results," he said, noting that the New Testament has "too many" warnings about false teachers.
Dever listed five truths that are frequently distorted and attacked: God's judgment is coming, we should be judged by God, our only hope is in Christ, we don't see the fullness of our salvation in this life, and we can deceive ourselves and others about our relationship with God.
By not teaching these truths clearly, churches become filled with those who do not "evidence the fruit of the Spirit" or who aren't truly born-again.
"We have to be clear ... that because God is good and we are not, we deserve God's judgment," he emphasized. "How many churches seem to downplay, if not deny, natural human depravity and lostness?"
He also warned that without the clear teaching of Jesus Christ as the only way to salvation, "you can make converts to fatalism or to an ethical society as so many of our Protestant churches have become but you cannot have a truly Christian church."
But it's not just doctrine that pastors and believers need to get right, Dever pointed out. The way a Christian lives is also just as important.
"Wrong living," he said, "can be just as damning as wrong teaching."
"Watch your doctrine and life closely," he asserted, citing the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 4.
So how must the church and the believer live?
They must be holy – not conceding to worldliness; there must be self-sacrifice and denying of oneself; and they must evidence love.
"If you want to get a lot of fake Christians in your church, just tell them that there is this free gift that entails no self-sacrifice and trouble," the Baptist pastor told conference attendees in Louisville, Ky. "The truth, however, is 'no cross, no crown.'"
When believers get doctrine and life wrong, church life and mutual edification are eroded, the church's witness to the world is subverted, and God's name is profaned, he summed.
But "when we get some crucial things right about life and about doctrine, we will help cause the witness of God to shine."
Together for the Gospel was founded by prominent pastors and theologians Ligon Duncan, Dever, Albert Mohler and C. J. Mahaney. The first T4G conference was held in 2006 with the aim of encouraging other pastors to stand together for the same Gospel. This year's event, which mainly drew those in their 20s and 30s, is the fourth gathering of its kind and concludes Thursday.