“Ten Things I Learned Wrong from a Conservative Church”
by John Killinger
Fourth wrong teaching:
There Is No Salvation
Outside the (Conservative) Church
Killinger regularly uses the term “conservative” church throughout this book. It’s found in the title of this book, as well as the title of this chapter. The conservative church that he usually refers to is the Southern Baptist Convention, the church he grew up in and is most familiar with. But there are times when he uses the term “conservative” in a general way, to refer to any and all churches that hold views similar to those of the Southern Baptists. This is the case in this chapter as we will see.
It is dangerous to speak in generalities, because there are always exceptions. Ours is a “conservative” church. As we have seen already, some of what Killinger says about conservatives would be true of us. (e.g. We understand that Scripture is the inspired Word of God, we recognize that infants are born in sin, and we confess that Jesus is the only way to heaven.) But there are also accusations that he has made against conservatives that are not true of our church. (e.g. We do not dwell primarily in the Old Testament and we have a good sense of humor.) Some of the assertions he makes may be true of other “conservative” churches, but maybe these points don’t have anything to do with conservative Biblical teaching at all, but are based on individuality. We are not about to speak for the other “conservative” churches Killinger may have been thinking of, but we can and will answer for ourselves.
The title of this chapter is: “There is no salvation outside the (conservative) church.” In the opening part of this chapter he reflects back to his childhood church and says: “The members of First Baptist Church knew from both precept and innuendo that the unchurched members of our community were going to hell when they died. And we were always given the feeling that even those who attended the other churches stood in some danger of the same terrible fate unless God was in a particularly generous mood when they passed away” (p. 68).
First of all, we don’t believe that salvation can only be found at Zion Ev. Lutheran Church or within the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Scripture is clear that salvation is brought about through the preaching of the Good News about Jesus Christ (Isaiah 55:11; Jeremiah 23:29; Luke 16:29-31; Romans 1:16; Romans 10:17; 1 Corinthians 1:18; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14; James 1:21; 1 Peter 1:23). The Holy Spirit is at work creating and sustaining faith in sinners wherever the Gospel is being proclaimed. While membership in a visible church organization does not determine eternal salvation, one must realize that God exhorts us to gather in worship with like minded believers in Christ (Matthew 18:20; Hebrews 10:25) for the strengthening of our faith.
Evangelism is a key aspect of our work as followers of Christ. Since the Gospel is the only “means” by which God’s grace can be received (hence the term “Means of Grace”), this logically necessitates a proclaiming of the Gospel to those who are lost! Jesus spoke of His own purpose in this way, saying: “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). After His resurrection and before He ascended into heaven, Jesus passed this responsibility on to His followers: “you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Likewise Paul wrote: “God... has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God” (1 Corinthians 5:19-20). Salvation can only be found in Christ and so we eagerly proclaim this to others.
But because Killinger does not recognize Jesus as the only way of salvation, he has a very different view. He says: “This conviction among conservative religious people that theirs is the only church in which salvation is a sure thing lend great impetus to evangelism” (p. 71). He goes on to explain: “Liberal Christians don’t have a passion for the lost because they aren’t really certain anybody is lost. If God is a loving deity and hell is only a mythological idea from a more benighted time, there is not much to save people from except suffering and ignorance in this life. So liberals busy themselves with voter registration, slum reclamation, disease control, ecological concerns, and the quality of education, while conservatives worry about getting everybody into their own particular churches” (p. 71-72).
From Scripture we certainly know that God is a loving deity (John 3:16; Romans 5:8-10; Ephesians 2:7-9; 1 John 4:9). But while some argue that a loving God and a real hell are incompatible, we understand that it is the reality of hell which gives true meaning to the love of our God! The passages above reveal the connection between the love of God and our deserved punishment in hell. These passages do not specifically state that hell is the punishment that God, in His great love, delivers us from through Jesus. But the context of Scripture as a whole is clear on the reality of hell as the eternal punishment that we deserve because of our sins.
• Daniel 12:1-2; Matthew 10:28; 25:46; Mark 3:29; 9:43-45; Luke 13:28; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10; 2 Peter 2:4-10; Revelation 14:10-11.
The Social Gospel
Since many Christians do not recognize the real danger of hell they see no need for the preaching of the Gospel. Instead they occupy themselves with other “social gospel” activities such as voting, helping the poor, disease control, ecological concerns, and the quality of education. Concerning this Killinger states: “Conservatism in this country, ever since the arrival of the Puritans in New England, has talked and dreamed so exclusively of heaven and the life after death that it has tended to ignore the enormous social problems that exist right under its nose, some of them even spawned by the greed and selfishness of its members” (p. 76-77).
Conservative churches don’t “ignore” such social issues, they simply recognize that the work of preaching the Good News of salvation from sin in Christ is far more important than the social issues of our world! Jesus said it best: “What profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). It’s all about priorities!
Through all this Killinger is really taking a swing at the doctrine of fellowship. He says: “The conservative churches of my experience think they have the truth and don’t want to be contaminated by association with congregations that don’t think exactly as they do” (p. 80). He continues, “It’s a shame that belonging to any church could ever separate anybody from people in the world who don’t belong. Jesus wanted love and unity above everything else, and he preached it to his disciples. But apparently it isn’t such a big deal with us. We forget that the Gospel of John says ‘God so loved the world that he sent his only Son,’ not ‘God so loved the church,’ etc.” (p. 83-84).
It’s not conservatives, but the Lord Himself that doesn’t want the truth of His Word contaminated. God has given us the doctrine of fellowship out of love for us and for our souls. Christ wants unity – but true unity based on the teachings of His Word. He wants us to understand the nature and danger of false teaching, to be alert for its intrusion, and avoid it because it spreads like cancer.
• Psalm 1:1; Jer. 15:17; Matt. 10:34-36; Rom. 16:17-18; Eph. 5:11; 2 Thess. 3:6-15; 2 Tim. 2:17-18.
Note: This study was prepared for the Bible Class at Zion Lutheran Church, Lawrenceville,
Georgia by Pastor Nathanael Mayhew.
If you would like more information about this study,
please contact Pastor Mayhew