Perhaps some of the most dangerous deceptions in our churches currently center around the salvation message. For obvious reasons we are very concerned about some of the methods that the IFB uses to convey the gospel. Recent discussions with a colleague about this topic lead her to voice concern about the “Romans Road” method of witnessing which was prevalent in both of our experiences of the IFB. This Romans Road Deception could be one of the most dangerous and potentially harmful around.
The “Romans Road” appears to have been coined by Jack Hyles, at least he has taken credit for coming up with this particular soul winning method. From a sermon that was preached in Hammond, IN on June 28, 1970 entitled “There Remaineth Yet Much Land to Be Possessed,” Hyles said:
“By the way, you folks who don’t come on Wednesday night don’t know this, but about twenty-two years ago, in a little East Texas Church, I came up with a little plan of presenting the plan of salvation called “The Roman Road” whereby you take verses contained in Romans and show people how to be saved using Romans 3:10, and Romans 3:23, and Romans 5:12, and Romans 5:8, and on and on. I termed it, “The Roman Road,” and from the “Roman Road” I wrote the little book, “Let’s Go Soul Winning.” http://www.jackhyles.com/muchland.htm
For those of you who may not know, the Romans Road walks a person through 6 or 7 main points related to salvation and using a selection of verses from the book of Romans. The verses included are Romans 3:10, 3:23, 5:12, 6:23, 5:8, 10:9-10, and 10:13. The idea of this method is to present each verse in sequence. When done properly, the Roman’s Road presents all major points that the IFB thinks are required for salvation, such as all are sinners, all have a debt we can’t pay, Christ paid the debt for us in our place and all need to acknowledging these fact through prayer.
Jamey and I shared our experiences and memories of our respective church experiences related to this Romans Road idea with each other. Jamey recalled:
While I was a teenager, every Thursday night and Saturday morning was devoted to soul winning. As I have continued thinking about this, I can remember contests where soul winning was one of the requirements in order to win the contest. In these types of contests, we would get points for showing up on Thursdays and Saturdays. But if we could “get someone saved” then we would get more points. I have heard many times that everyone should be able to get someone saved every time they go soul winning. Basically, if someone wasn’t “leading someone to the Lord” on a consistent basis, then they were doing something wrong.
When I was growing up this was the only method that was deemed appropriate to use. I’m pretty sure it was because I grew up just a few hours from Hammond, IN. The people in my area loved (and still love) Jack Hyles. Even veering from Romans and using verses out of other books of the Bible was frowned upon. The reason given was that it might confuse the sinner if you’re jumping around to different books. Personally, I would prefer to show a person many verses in the Bible to show them their need of salvation, then just showing them one verse here and there.
My experience was very similar. I remember having “Bible Drills” where the teacher would hold a contest to see who could repeat the Romans Road to salvation the fastest and most efficient. We had to memorize it and pretend to be presenting it in witness style to a non-believer. I also recall being escorted with my classmates to retirement communities to spend time with the elderly folks there to “practice” presenting the Romans Road. The elderly didn’t mind since they loved the company of children and occasionally someone would make a profession of faith as a result. The praise and admiration of the child that “scored” the most souls for Christ was beyond flattery.
As Jamey and I talked, it became apparent that our concerns weren’t really with the witnessing or the professions made as a result. Some concern was discussed about the sincerity of the conversion experience and whether or not the conversion experience was true or not given the rushed and shallow approach of the Romans Road method of witnessing. We wonder if it’s truly possible to receive Christ without understanding the full impact of our sin and the process of repentance – neither of which is spelled out very clearly in the Romans Road method. We had some disagreements on that front, but what really concerned us the most is that once again, through this Roman’s Road method to salvation, we see the IFB for what it really is – shallow and performance based.
Although the Romans Road is the gospel message in a nutshell, the flavor of the presentation is one that makes us very uncomfortable and nervous. Its over simplistic and cookie cutter style is dangerous to say the least and manipulative at most. It can be severely misleading to many people who are presented with a quick, short gospel message and then left in the dust to figure out the details. It’s often used to measure witnessing efforts, compete with other people/churches on the number of souls won for Christ and as a cheap shallow way for people to get involved in bringing people to Christ and/or adding numbers to the local IFB church.
We are concerned about the way the IFB pushes the use of the Romans Road on its congregations making people believe that they are “witnessing” when they may not be. We are also extremely concerned that pulling 6 or 7 verses out of context without explaining details and giving people time to ask questions presents a very shallow and misguided gospel message. This can lead to more confusion and frustration and hurt more people than it helps. Even if it didn’t do these things, should the ends justify the means?
Our goal for witnessing shouldn’t be in getting someone to pray the salvation prayer. Neither should it be about just presenting the gospel in rapid fire format hoping that some of the “buck shot” will land on fertile soil. Witnessing is about building relationships and showing who Christ is and deliberately planting seeds. We aren’t responsible for salvation, that’s the Holy Spirit’s job. Jamey and I both agreed that the Roman’s Road can certainly be a method that God uses to bring some souls to Him and for that we are thankful, but we need to be very careful lest we fall prey to this idea that one size fits all. The salvation experience is unique and we need to be sensitive to the fact that people who need Christ may be turned off by such a non-personal and cookie cutter style of witnessing.