Since the late 1940’s the American church has been much concerned with saving the lost. For several decades the church has thrown its resources behind massive “Evangelistic Crusades.” While many thousands have found Christ in these crusades, the church has fallen short in many cases of making disciples of those who have made decisions. As a religious community the church has naively expected the lost to “come to Church” to be saved. To correct our mistakes we can follow Jesus’ example in evangelism. Jesus met the lost and ministered to them on their “turf ” even though religious people criticized him for it. After an encounter with Jesus in their own environment, the lost not only made a decision to accept Jesus as Messiah, they became true disciples whose lives were radically altered by the power and love of God. In the Body of Christ it is each person’s role to minister salvation to the lost. Often we think of “saving souls,” but salvation is for the “whole man.” Often the poor, the lost, and the sick are the same people. John Wimber
Our Theme: ON COMPASSION.
As a baby-boomer, I grew up being very familiar with evangelistic crusades. I credit the great evangelist, Billy Graham, as the man who clearly brought me to the salvation message of Jesus Christ. While I grew up in church, faithfully attending a main-line denominational church with my parents, it was actually Billy Graham’s evangelistic crusades on television that convinced me to make a personal decision to follow Jesus.
Back in the day, you see, Billy Graham was on TV regularly. Most of his large crusades in the 1950s and 60s were broadcast across the airwaves, and with only three major TV networks available to us back then, it wouldn’t be unusual to turn on the tube on any given evening and find Billy preaching to yet another massive crowd in some major American city. My parents enjoyed watching Billy and I did as well. I often tell people that I responded to Billy’s invitation to “come, just as you are” many, many times on TV, and for all I know, it stuck at least one time; maybe more!
Yet, while massive evangelistic crusades were very effective during the second half of the twentieth century across North America, Wimber is right when he said that sadly, most of evangelical Christianity views the word salvation as being associated exclusively with sinners receiving Christ as Savior, much as I did when I was a kid.
But here’s the truth.
When you and I limit the use of the word salvation to such evangelistic activity, we miss the fact that the New Testament has a much broader theme in mind when the word appears. In fact, the New Testament Greek word for salvation is sozo and it means so much more than some sinner saying a prayer of dedication at an evangelistic crusade. If we take a quick peek into a New Testament Greek Lexicon, we’ll find these extensive definitions of the word sozo (salvation or being saved):
- To save, keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction;
- To save one from injury or peril;
- To save a suffering one from perishing, i.e., one suffering from disease;
- To make well, heal, restore to health;
- To preserve one who is in danger of destruction, to save or rescue;
- To deliver from the penalties of the messianic judgment;
- To save from the evils, which obstruct the reception of the messianic deliverance.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that we should stop encouraging people to get saved by praying the sinner’s prayer, but what I believe Wimber thought needed to change in American church life was our very limited view of what salvation (sozo) should actually be. You see, to John Wimber, sozo also included the extensive ministries of Jesus’ healing and deliverance power. Sozo also includes Jesus’ ministry of compassion to the poor, the oppressed, and the needy.
So when Wimber talked about taking salvation to the streets, he literally meant taking the full gospel of Jesus on the road. The good news that includes not only a concise message of salvation to the lost, but also the compassionate works of Jesus, including healing of the sick, casting out demons, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and offering to meet the practical needs of people as well as their spiritual needs.
As I see it, it might do the American church of the twenty-first century well to remember this broader definition of salvation as well. In a time when the credibility of the church is being questioned more and more, it might do great wonders for our Christian witness if we did a bit less hard-core salvation preaching to the sinners and a whole bunch more demonstrations of sozo to the masses. As Wimber would so often point out, it’s so much easier to talk to a person about receiving Jesus as Savior after you’ve just filled their family’s empty stomachs, or healed a family member of a life-threatening sickness!
Father God, I’m afraid that my generation has taken Jesus’ magnificent ministry of sozo and reduced it down to just getting a sinner to pray a short prayer of salvation. May your Holy Spirit forgive us for such actions and allow the church to once again expand the amazing ministry of Jesus’ sozo power to the whole person. For your name’s sake. Amen!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO PONDER
- What might it look like for Christian ministries today to expand the base of what salvation actually means?
- What will it take to transform our Christian outreaches from simply preaching a “turn-or-burn” salvation message into a much broader compassion ministry that focuses on healing the sick, casting out darkness, caring for the poor, the needy, and the oppressed, while still proclaiming the Good News salvation message of Jesus to all?
So, what is God speaking to you today as you ponder the Wisdom of Wimber?
Between Easter 2016 and the end of August, we are sharing with you a blog series we call The Wisdom of Wimber: As I See It. In order to keep all 64 blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our Wisdom of Wimber page for ease of use. Might we also suggest that you order a copy or two of our book by the same title! It’s available in both paperback and e-book formats…and will soon be available in Spanish! Click here for more info. ENJOY!
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