Where Are the Nine?
by Pastor Jack Hyles
(Chapter 10 from Dr. Hyles book, Enemies of Soul-Winning)
Recently an article appeared in a leading conservative publication which I feel must be answered. I am a novice at this; to my knowledge I have never done this before, that is, publish an answer to someone else's article. It had the same title as does this answer, and it appeared to me to be directed toward my good friend, Dr. Bob Gray of Longview, Texas, whom I love and admire dearly. I feel I must rise in his defense and in defense of all of those who feel somewhat under attack by the aforementioned article, many of whom pastor some of the greatest soul-winning churches in America. That article dealt with churches who are baptizing multitudes but are seeing little or no church growth, and I feel it hit the jugular vein of soul-winning churches, and it must be addressed.
First, let me say that I consider myself a friend to the author of the article. I love him, respect him, and admire him very much. I have no plan to attack him. I think he is a good, sincere, honest child of God. He is one to whom our country owes a debt. He is a great preacher, and I have some feeling that my dear brother did not mean for his article to come across exactly as it did.
I do not think my brother is a compromiser. If I understand the meaning of the word "compromise," it describes someone who goes against what he believes for his own personal gain, whether it be popularity, money or success. I do not think that my dear brother is a compromiser. I think he is consistent with his pen and in the pulpit with what he believes, and I do not think he is "selling out" for anybody.
There are many things in his article with which I agree. I agree with him concerning revival and the need for real revival in America. I agree with him that Christians across America should heed II Chronicles 7:14. I believe that God's people in our country need to repent. I also agree with him that soul winners should always present the plan of salvation thoroughly and carefully. This is not in defense of shallowness. I agree with him that numbers are not important for numbers themselves. I agree that our soul winning should not be for numbers but to keep every person out of Hell that we possibly can.
I have no desire to publicize my personal differences or convictions or standards with my beloved brother or to air in public the dirty linen of fundamentalists, but someone needs to rise in defense of the great soul-winning churches and the great soul-winning pastors who felt the brunt of this article.
1. Soul winning is not a method of church building. It is a command from our Commanding General. Occasionally someone will come to the Pastors' School at First Baptist Church of Hammond, spend a week hearing and seeing the soul-winning emphasis here, and go home to win souls and see his church grow. This growth may continue for several years, and then it may level off. Often this same pastor will then go to someone else's pastors' school to find other methods by which he can build his attendance. Soul winning is not a method; it is a command. We are supposed to go soul winning and do soul winning if our churches grow or if our churches decrease in attendance. An increase in church attendance is simply a delightful product of soul winning; but if such an increase does not occur, the command of the Great Commission is no less valid.
We are likewise commanded to baptize people upon their acceptance of Jesus Christ. If the church grows or not, the Great Commission is still valid. We are to win souls, baptize our converts, and train our converts to win souls.
2. Our command is not to build churches. I know of no place in the Bible where we are commanded to build churches. Matthew 16:18 tells us that it is Jesus' place to build the church. It is our job to obey His command. I am not in the church-building business; I am in the soul-winning business, and I'm doing my best to conserve the results and to build a spiritual hospital for the healing of wounded Christians and a dining hall for the feeding of God's people. It is easy for us in obeying the Great Commission to oft times enjoy church growth. Then our motives become wrong, as we decide to build churches rather than win souls. The motto of my ministry is, "I will not use my people to build my work; I will use my work to build my people."
3. Where are the converts? In Luke 17:12-19 we have the story of the cleansing of ten lepers. Only one returned to express gratitude, and our Saviour asked the question, "Where are the nine?" (Luke 17:17) The answer is found in the same verse, "Were there not ten cleansed?" Regardless of where the nine are, they were cleansed. This is the big thing. It was nice for the one to return to express gratitude; it would have been nicer for all ten to have returned, but the main thing about this story is that all of them were cleansed. Now, I'm not saying that all the people who walk the aisles in our churches to receive Christ are sincere; but I do believe that the percentage of people who are genuinely saved who walk the aisles in the churches under attack by our dear brother is just as great as the percentage of the churches who have lesser numbers profess faith in Christ.
Now let us discuss where the nine are and where many of the converts go who are saved in these churches. Since these churches are not primarily concerned about building churches but keeping people out of Hell, they reach into many areas of society whose people can do nothing for the church. Many of these are transient. For example, at our church we reach thousands of bus people a year who live too far to attend First Baptist Church regularly. Many of them are children and teenagers whose parents will not let them return to First Baptist Church.
Every Sunday we have sailors walking the aisle professing faith in Christ. These men are stationed at a naval base about 80 miles from First Baptist Church. These are not men who are going to attend our church regularly. They come and go; but, thank God, they are cleansed, if they are sincerely receiving Christ.
We operate a rescue mission. Scores of these mission men are baptized every year. Most of them are men whose lives have been ruined and wasted, and they come from all over the country as transients. They get saved and go back to their families or go to the next city. They cannot be added to the attendance of our church; but, thank God, if they sincerely trusted Christ, they are cleansed.
The churches under attack by our dear brother are churches that preach on the streets and reach street people. These people are transients. They are reached, they are brought to church, they are baptized according to the Great Commission, but they do not live in our city. They go their way. We try to do what we can to contact people in other cities to help them; but if they are never seen again, they were cleansed if they were sincere in their profession of faith in Christ.
Churches of our persuasion go to rest homes and take the Gospel of Christ. When these people receive Christ, many are allowed to come to church for one Sunday just to profess faith in Christ and be baptized. We have baptized scores of people from rest homes this year who cannot regularly attend our church and most of whom will never come to our church again; but if they were sincere, they were cleansed.
Scores of our converts each year are shut-ins. Our church and others like ours go to the highways and hedges, go to the maimed, the halt, and the blind, and we do all we can to get people saved. Our job is not to get them to help us build a church; our job is to get them cleansed. After a person who is a shut-in is saved, we believe he should get baptized. We make special arrangements for such people to come to church on at least one occasion so they can be baptized. They do not increase our church attendance; but if they were sincere, they were cleansed.
We have a ministry to the truck drivers. Many of our people go to truck stops to do soul winning. Every Sunday we will have from half-a-dozen to twenty (sometimes even more) truck drivers who sit together on my right on the front. These men love our services. Many of them receive Christ as Saviour. In obedience to the command given in the Great Commission, we baptize them. They go back to their truck stops, get in their trucks, and go on their way. They will not be shown on our future attendance records; but if they were sincere, they were cleansed.
Our people bring their relatives to our church, especially when they come to visit at vacation time. Hundreds of these people are saved every year. They are baptized while they are here and then return to their own homes. They do not help us increase our attendance on a regular basis; but if they were sincere, they were cleansed.
Hundreds of people have come from the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin to visit our services because they have heard of our church. When they come, they bring their lost loved ones with them because they know that we will do our best to get them saved. Many of these unsaved loved ones receive Christ or at least say they do. Then they return to their homes; they live too far to help us increase our church attendance; but, thank God, if they were sincere, they were cleansed.
Every week we send many of our men to jails across the area. We have an active prison ministry. Hundreds of these prisoners are won to Christ each year. When they are discharged from prison, many come to our church to get baptized before they return to their homes in other cities and states. This does not help us in our attendance; but if they were sincere, they were cleansed.
In Luke 14:16-24 we find the parable of the great supper. There are several places mentioned where we are to go to invite folks to come. These places are the streets and lanes of the city. We are told to bring in the poor, the maimed, the halt, and the blind. Then in verse 23 we are told to go to the highways and hedges. Now most of the people you will find in these places and under these conditions are not people who are going to build your church, but we are to reach them. Then we are commanded when we reach them to baptize them; and, praise God, if they were sincere, they are cleansed.
Add to this the educable slow or retarded people (we reach hundreds of these), the migrant workers, and many other groups such as the Vietnamese, the Cambodians and the Chinese, and you will find that a real soul-winning church that obeys the Great Commission will reach multitudes of people that will never help their attendance; but, thank God, if they are sincere, they are cleansed.
I sincerely believe that this is the heart of the Saviour; and when He looks down and sees an unselfish group of people who are obeying the Great Commission and are willing to reach multitudes who cannot boost the attendance or boost the offering, I think the Saviour then says, "I'm going to build that church. That church is a tool being used to obey My commission, so I'm going to build it, keep it in good shape, send it new members, and send it converts from nearby who are stable families."
So in answer to the question, "Where are the nine?" the answer is, they are cleansed. That's the big thing-not if they count in the attendance report. It is for this reason that the soul-winning churches are the growing churches in most cases. However, I rise in defense of a church that is not growing but is busy obeying the Great Commission.
I pastored country churches as a young man. In one place we had only seven prospects that we found in a church census. So, we would go down to the next town 25 miles away on Saturday and win everybody we could to Christ. Then we baptized them. They could not help our church attendance; but if they were sincere, they were cleansed.
When I was a boy growing up in Dallas, Texas, a church was started one block from the high school I attended. It was called the Galilean Baptist Church. I will never forget the soul winning that church did. They preached on street corners; they passed out tracts in shopping areas. I can remember that on Sunday afternoon the pastor would go down to the zoo and stand by the monkey cages where the crowds gathered and preach to the people. This church reached thousands for the Lord, but it never became a giant church. It was average-sized at best and was only a fraction of the size of a church just a block away. They won thousands to Christ. They did not keep them all or most of them; but all of those who were sincere were cleansed.
It is hard for people whose main desire is to build a church to understand those whose main desire is to obey the Great Commission and keep people out of Hell. We obey the Great Commission. Jesus builds the church by sending us enough local people to keep the tool in good shape so it can do the job for God in reaching others and in obeying the Great Commission.
4. In a sense, the church that doesn't grow or that decreases in attendance is growing. When a ministry first begins, there is not much attrition, especially in the case of a new church. Most of the growth in the first few months or years is net gain. However, as a church grows older, she begins to lose people in certain ways. It is much like a lavatory in a bathroom. There is a drain at the bottom, and there is a drain at the top. When one wants to fill the lavatory, he plugs the drain at the bottom, and all the water that comes from the faucet is net gain. There comes a time, however, when water begins to reach the
top and flows out through the upper drain. A church is like this. There comes a time in the life of a church when it begins to lose people for various reasons. When such natural losses come, the church must be reaching many people to take the place of the losses. The membership and attendance must be replenished, so a church is actually growing when it isn't growing. Death takes some; college takes others. Marriage takes some; others move out of the area. Yes, sad to say, some become disgruntled and leave; others become shut-ins; and others choose to go to smaller churches nearby.
For example, when I became Pastor of First Baptist Church of Hammond 33 years ago, you could hardly find a fundamental church in our area within driving distance. Now there are 40 churches within driving distance of my house that are soul-winning fundamental churches. Most of these are pastored by people who at one time went to First Baptist Church, and some are even our converts. Most, if not all, of these churches have members who were saved at First Baptist Church of Hammond.
At one time there were six song leaders in churches in our area who were saved at First Baptist Church. I remember one time finding that there were three deacon board chairmen in our area who were saved at First Baptist Church.
I was in the airport at O'Hare Field in Chicago. My name was paged because an agent wanted to see me. A young married lady who heard my name came up to me and told me how glad she was to see me. She wanted me to know that she was saved at First Baptist Church and that she was now going to another church in the area. Recently I was at a police department in a suburb of Hammond. I was told that the captain there was saved at First Baptist Church and was going to a church in the suburbs. A few years ago I spoke at a Sunday school convention on the north side of Chicago; I counted 27 of our converts who were teaching Sunday school in other churches within an hour and a half' s drive of the First Baptist Church of Hammond.
The converts of soul-winning churches migrate over the entire country. There are hundreds of preachers from First Baptist Church who are pastoring churches around America. Add to that hundreds of church secretaries, assistant pastors, Christian school administrators, Christian school teachers, etc., and you have a great host of people, many of whom were saved here, who are scattered across the country.
Then there are those who have been saved at First Baptist who have moved to other parts of the country. Often in San Diego or Norfolk or Jacksonville or some other area near a naval base, I meet sailors who were saved at First Baptist and who are serving in other churches.
The other day I was in San Antonio, Texas. I met a Mexican lady who was saved at First Baptist Church. A few years ago I was in Denver. A pastor came to visit the services to tell me that one of our converts was a faithful member of his church. Almost everywhere I speak, laymen come to me and say, "I was saved at First Baptist Church, and I'm serving God here." I was on the airplane the other day. A stewardess told me she was saved at First Baptist Church of Hammond.
Soul-winning churches have converts all over the world. A missionary in the back country jungles of Mexico found a little group of people who had never heard the Gospel. Very carefully this missionary explained the Gospel. One little Mexican boy began to smile and shake his head up and down. The missionary inquired as to why he was smiling and nodding. He said, "I know all about that. I used to live in Chicago, and I went out to the First Baptist Church of Hammond and got saved." Some preacher friends of mine were in Korea. They went to an army base to eat a bite. The guard at the guardhouse checked their identity. One of the preachers witnessed to the guard, whereupon the guard replied, "I was saved in Hammond, Indiana, several years ago."
Preachers all over America tell me that while they are out soul winning they meet our converts. Likewise, I meet the converts of other fundamental soul-winning churches while I'm out soul winning.
I was preaching in Longview, Texas. I had to drive well over a hundred miles to get to the Dallas airport. I was in a rented car. I got behind an accident, and for almost an hour I couldn't move. When the roads were cleared, I found myself driving over the speed limit in order to make my plane so I could get to my church in time for the service that night. I was pulled over by a state trooper. He looked at my driver's license and began to cry. He said, "You won me to Christ seventeen years ago."
You see, soul-winning churches have converts everywhere. They are not attending our churches; they give no money to our churches; but if they were sincere, they are cleansed.
5. There is a deadly accusation against us that we believe "easy-believism." (Of course, I must confess that I don't know what "hard-believism" is.) I simply believe in "believism." Perhaps the folks who were bitten by the fiery serpents in the wilderness and were saved from death by simply looking at the brazen serpent lifted on a pole were accused of believing an "easy-lookism." I would imagine that somebody accused the Ethiopian eunuch of practicing "easy-believism," and the same thing would be true of the Philippian jailor or the woman at Sychar's well. Each of them was saved during one conversation in the matter of a few minutes. I feel the term "easy-believism"is a term used by those who are spasmodic in soul winning for those who are faithful in soul winning. It may even be an excuse for their lack of soul-winning effort.
6. Was Jesus a failure after having spent 33 years on this earth after doing so many things that the Bible says the world could not contain the books that would be written if all He did was placed in print? He came to the cross. At the time of His death, His follow-up program was seemingly a failure. His board chairman was denying he belonged to the church or the faith of the Lord. His treasurer was committing suicide. One of his board members was doubting. The rest forsook Him and fled, and only a few ladies gathered around the cross. Where were those that He had cleansed? I don't know where they were, but I know one thing: They were cleansed!
Now I believe in a follow-up program. I would compare our follow-up program at First Baptist Church of Hammond with any follow-up program in America, but I'm afraid that too many churches are following up on converts they are not having. I've often said that I would rather conserve two out of a hundred than one out of one.
7. If one must criticize, why not be critical of the churches who are not growing and not winning souls instead of the churches who are not growing and yet obeying the Great Commission? If you must criticize, why not criticize the churches who are baptizing ten and have less in attendance than those who are baptizing 6,000 and have the same attendance?
Why not reward the hard-working bus workers instead of criticizing their churches? Why not reward and honor the folks who preach on the streets and go to the jails, the rest homes, the streets and lanes and highways and hedges to get the maimed, the halt, the blind and bring them to Christ instead of criticizing their churches? Why not reward and honor those who preach and reach the forgotten who cannot come to church regularly but nevertheless have been cleansed? Why not honor and reward the pastors and churches who reach so many who can in turn offer nothing to the church?
I commend my brother for these many years of preaching the Gospel. I commend him for overcoming obstacles. I admire him and love him deeply, and I cannot help but believe that he is more in agreement with the churches that were the object of his article than he is with those churches who spend less time obeying the Great Commission and reaching those who can give us nothing in return. I honor him, I respect him, I admire him, and I appreciate his ministry.
Now let him and me both join in appreciating the ministry of pastors and people who go day and night obeying the Great Commission. It is sad that those who are called fanatics and who are fought by city councils, police departments, newspapers, false teachers, ministerial associations, businesses, atheists, and others because of their soul-winning zeal, are also fought by a faithful servant of God who perhaps lapsed into a moment of judging motives.
May God bless him for his years of service; and may God bless those embarrassed by his article who preach the same Gospel, exalt the same Saviour, and believe the same Book.