Volume. XXIII, No. 3
Sunday, 20 July 2008

From the Pastors Heart: Conversion Debated

Conversion is one of the most important subjects when we talk about Christian faith.  The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines “conversion,” as (1) change in character or nature; (2) the action of a person bringing over; and (3) the action or an act of changing or being changed.  There are many conversion stories.  Quite often we hear about alcoholics turning from a drinking habit to sobriety, drug-addicts cutting off from their habits and being rehabilitated, cult members coming out of their cults and turning to the orthodox faith, a Harvard graduate Catholic becoming a Buddhist monk, an inhumane murderer coming to believe in Jesus and repenting of his sins, and so many other conversion stories.  Of course, when we talk about conversion, we cannot omit stories of religious conversion.  One of the most famous conversion stories recently in religious context took place in the spring of 2006, when an Afghan citizen, Abdul Rahman, who had converted from Islam to Christianity was arrested under local shari`ah law which mandates the death penalty for apostasy.  As a result of international pressure Abdul Rahman was released and given asylum in Italy.  He nearly died because of his conversion.  Talks about conversion quite frequently take place in the Christian context.  Biblically speaking, there is only one person who cannot and should not change, which is God.  Thus, God proclaimed in Malachi 3:6a, “For I am the LORD, I change not.”  After all, change is a part of Christian stories.  Psalm 55:19, “God shall hear, and afflict them, even he that abideth of old. Selah. Because they have no changes, therefore they fear not God.”  We probably need to properly define the word, “conversion.”  Noah Webster’s 1828 English Dictionary defines it as (1) in a general sense, a turning or change from one state to another, and (2) In a theological or moral sense, a change of heart, or dispositions, in which the enmity of the heart to God and his law and the obstinacy of the will are subdued, and are succeeded by supreme love to God and his moral government, and a reformation of life.  There are some other meanings, but I am going to use only these two for the sake of dealing with the topic within a certain scope. 

There are two important reasons we need to understand the meaning of conversion: (1) it appears that the Bible talks about conversion as a pre-requisite for us to become heavenly citizens, and (2) the necessity of conversion presupposes correct Biblical doctrines of God and man.  As we have already seen, God does not change, and all men have to be changed.  It implies the truthfulness and perfect of God, and the imperfect nature of man that requires him to make changes or to receive changes.  The latter part is closely related to the biblical understanding of human depravity and the necessity of his salvation.  From these plain facts, we may see the importance of conversion.  At the same time, these reasons provide the deniers of the orthodox teaching of conversion with the very reasons to change and at least to amend the meaning of conversion.  They do not see man as sinful.  They do not see sin as a serious problem to the mankind.  By a quick glance, we may think that there is no reason to debate over the meaning and necessity of conversion.  But in hind side, various liberal and modernist groups have brought different flavours and definitions into this word.  One of many good examples can be found from Rauschenbusch’s teachings on salvation.  He followed the teachings of Schleiermacher that the root of sin is not in the heart of man, but in societies.  He believed that Satan is a socioeconomic and political evil.  To him, salvation means overcoming the world’s socioeconomic needs in this world.  Thus, salvation message, the Gospel, became a political agenda.  To such teachings, the WCC (World Council of Churches) favourably joined.  Eventually, the truth of justification became a teaching of humanization.  The message of bringing people to Christ became a message of finding true humanness.  “An Indian theologian M. M. Thomas explained, conversion has to do with finding freedom from all that binds and oppresses human beings, not with turning to God in faith and repentance.”  In this case, conversion is not God’s redemptive work, but a human cooperative work with the forces of justice. 

Probably, by now you are able to see the connection between conversion and salvation.  If we define conversion differently from the Biblical definition, then we will have to change every part of Christian doctrines from the doctrine of God to the doctrine of salvation.  To those people who have confused the meaning of conversion, the exclusive message of Christ for salvation is to be rejected.  In 1961, a Catholic theologian Karl Rahner declared his theory of “anonymous Christian.”  He says that “although only a minority of people know Jesus by name, God has ordained other religions as channels through which he grants salvation to the religions’ adherents.  Salvation granted in this manner is based on the atoning work of Jesus Christ.  Only after the Christian gospel has been presented to the adherents of other religions in an existentially challenging way can they consciously accept Jesus as their savior.  After consciously receiving Christ as their savior, they do not pass from damnation to salvation but simply become aware of the salvation they have enjoyed all along as ‘anonymous Christians.’”  If I summarize this teaching in a word, it is a different Gospel.  In this case, he is promoting a conversion of no conversion.  Thus a man like Hubertus Halfab said that the mission of the church is to make, “Muslim better Muslims, Buddhists better Buddhists and Hindus better Hindus.” 

Again, all of these false notions are based on their misunderstanding of the meaning of conversion.  We have already seen “conversion” as “a turning or change from one state to another.”  There is a turning or changing.  Acts 26:20, “But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.”  The repentance of one’s sins and turning to God are two parts of conversion.  It includes repentance of sins and faith in God.  It was the conversion that Acts 15:3 states, “And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren.  It is something that Matthew 18:3 talks about: “And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”  It is the message that Peter preached in Acts 3:19, “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.” 

In order to make this conversion possible, God uses the means of preaching.  Faith comes by hearing, which comes by the Word of God.  Thus, preaching is an important part of conversion (Romans 10:8-17).  The Spirit of God is working in the hearts of sinners and convicting them of their sins.  Thus, sinners come of repentance (John 16:8-11).  They need new creations in them (2 Corinthians 5:17).  The biblical conversion does not simply refer to a change of opinion from one belief to another.  It includes a radical change that has brought into man’s heart and soul from without himself.  It is because a sinner cannot make such radical changes by his own efforts.  The biblical conversion requires supernatural work, and this work is also called grace.  If grace needs human assistance, it is not grace any more.  In this regard, the biblical conversion is unique.  The Christian conversion is not simply a behavioral change, or ideological change.  It is a change from inside out by focusing on Christ Jesus.  The biblical conversion has a divine origin.  How we understand conversion will determine what kind of faith we get.  I am going to deal with this issue of conversion some more later.  In the mean time, may the Lord richly bless you all!

In His Hands, Your Pastor

More Lively Hope




Special thanks to Pr Hai Seng Lim, assistants, helpers, & children for their contribution to the fruitfulness of this year’s VBS. Special thanks also to those contributed food & drinks, and transport.

There is no fellowship lunch next Lord’s Day, only coffee & cookies.

Kitchen Rosters on Notice Board & kitchen door (This week - Leader: Sis Ethel Chung).


Looking Ahead

Annual Congregational Meeting on Sat, 26 July. All Members are expected to attend. Please be punctual.


Praise & Thanksgiving

Journey mercies: Dn Tony & Sis Sally Law (Adl); Pr Hai Seng Lim (Melb); Bro Peter & Sis Mary Ting & family (Adl); Sis Sally & Mas Jason Teng (Canb/Adl); Bros Jeffrey Leng (S’pore), Jason Tan & Sisters Joyce Chen, Shu Ai Cho, Tabitha Heah, Vanessa & Felicia Tan, Maybelline Tan, Wendy Yong (Adl), Marion Chan (Perth), & Miss Jee Soo Park (Sth Korea).

Church activities: BSAG; Joy & Maranatha Prayer Meeting & Bible Study groups; Sparks4Christ; VBS; YAF Workshop & YAF Picnic.

Vacation Bible School: Speaker: Pr Hai Seng Lim, assistants, helpers, parents & children.

God’s mercy & help for all of us.


Prayer Items

Health & God’s healing - Rev George & Sis Nan van Buuren, Rev Peter Chua, Rev Peter Clements,  Rev Timothy Tow, Dr S H Tow, Preacher Zhang, Dn Yaw Chiew Tan; Bros Tommy Brooks, Colin Creaser, S Dhamarlingam, Makoto Kobayashi, Raphael Ng’s father, Richard Pearson, Winston Selvanayagam, Hans Ziegelmann; Grandpa Ki; Sisters Myung Ki, Alice Lee’s father, Auntie Oei, Fiona Paauwe; Margaret, Dianne, & Sarah Pearson, Aranka Rejtoe, Susan Veradi, Irena, Giok Yeo’s sister-in-law; & others in affliction.

Critical care ward: Rev John McKenzie (RAH)

Post-Surgery: Sis Sylvia White

Cambodia Missions - Khmer pastors and believers

Laos Missions - Believers in Laos.

India/Pakistan Missions - Pastors & Believers.

Kuching Missions - Teo family.

Sketch n’ Tell Ministry - Pr H S Lim

Journey Mercies - Sister Joyce Gong (Adl); all those who are travelling.

Salvation of Mrs Van and her family.

Sis Judy Li - Strength & courage in the face of opposition at home in Dalian, China.

Job - Bro Cong Pham

ACM - All will be done to glorify God.

Provision of a Pastor for our Church.

Sister B-P Churches in Australia: Faithful to the Word of God.



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14 Bedford Square, Colonel Light Gardens, South Australia 5041