A Testimony to a Conversion
by: Deji Yesufu
Chris Arnzen interviewed two men on his radio program this past Friday on the topic Christian Coaches in community sports in the United States. Chris has a tradition of having first time guests give a summary of their conversion experience. It is one aspect of his show that I love to listen to because it gives me an understanding of the various ways Christ saves sinners. Pete Chiofalo, one of the men, relayed the story of how he came to know the Lord Jesus Christ. I will be telling his story here and then try to draw some lessons from it.
When Pete’s mother was 15 years old, she became pregnant with him out of wedlock. Pete’s father, I will call him Mr. Chiofalo, was sixtheen years of age himself. Against all the advice proffered by the families of the two young people, they decided to get married. After that, Pete’s two younger sisters came almost immediately. By the time Pete’s mother was 21, she already had three children she was caring for. Mr. Chiofalo, obviously not ready for such great responsibility, eased his frustrations with drinking, partying and more wild living. Soon he had abandoned his young family and headed to another part of the United States. Mrs. Chiofalo will then struggle to raise the three children all by herself.
About the year Mr. Chiofalo clocked 31 years of age (Pete would be about 15 – a young teenager), he called his wife on the phone. Pete had just returned from school and found his mother talking to someone on the phone and at the same time crying. “What is it mum; why are you crying?” He asked her. She simply handed him the phone. The person at the other side turned out to be his father – whom he did not know, as he had left home when Pete was a child. Mr. Chiofalo was in trouble and he had no one else to turn to but his wife whom he had abandoned. He was a drug addict and his life was in danger, as a gang he had been dealing with where seeking to kill him.
Pete’s mother eventually found a rehabilitation center for drug addicts. These people were willing to take Mr. Chiofalo if he will commit to stay through the 18 month program they do for addicts. Mr. Chiofalo eventually joined the institution and was thoroughly rehabilitated. Pete explained that when his mother found the rehabilitation center, they did not know that it was a Christian organization. So, along with reforming the addicts, the gospel was also pressed upon them in this place. Mr. Chiofalo became converted and began to put his life together.
A few years later, Pete and his younger sisters visited their Dad and spent some times with him. At this point in his life, Pete was not a Christian. In fact he had never heard of God or Jesus Christ before. His mother never took them to church. During the visit to their father, Mr. Chiofalo taught his children to memorize a few Bible verses. Pete explains that he had memorized 2 Corinthians 5:17 long before he himself became born again. At the end of the time with their father, Pete was solidly converted to Jesus Christ. His father would then request that he stay with him while his two sisters returned to their mother. He was sent to a Christian school where he developed love for sports and eventually became a coach. And now he leads a ministry to coaches in the United States of America.
Chris Arnzen runs a radio program that is first of all a Christian program but it is undeniably a reformed one too. Chris opens his platform to anyone who has a genuine testimony of knowing Jesus Christ. While majority of his guests are reformed people, he does not bar non-reformed folks from coming on. When Chris interviews reformed folks, he will ask how they became Christians and then how they encountered reformed theology. When he does not ask the second question, you get the inkling that his guest is not reformed. In this interview, Chris did not ask the second question and so obviously Pete Chiofalo is not reformed, yet he had such a sound conversion testimony.
A few weeks ago, a “reformed” brother decided to “seperate” from me because I interviewed a gentleman who was obviously Arminian in theology. This reformed person said because I was having an amiable conversation with an Arminian, and since he cannot fellowship with Arminians, he cannot fellowship with me too. I was very happy to end the relationship – if there was even ever a relationship there. But as we chatted over the matter, I made this point to him that what matters in this Christian walk is for persons to be converted. Whatever theological perspectives we eventually adopt are only an aid to more effective ministry, service and obedience to God. If our theology is not making us more holy and more committed to reaching the world with the gospel, that theology is a waste. Reformed theology should make us better Christians and give us greater wisdom to reach the world for Christ. Reformed Christians are not the only Christians in the world; and if our reformed theology only increases our narrow mindset and makes us increasingly unable to reach men for God, I genuinely doubt if we understand the theology we profess.
Second. The evidence of true conversion is not in the theology that people profess; it is the fruit of a converted life – it is holiness. Recently I began to examine the Lordship Controversy that was instigated by John MacArthur in the 1980s because of the book he wrote “The Gospel According to Jesus Christ”. In that book, MacArthur contended that true conversion is evidenced by obedience. That a person who knows the Lord Jesus persevers in the faith till the end. He wrote that book to challenge a theology that is still rife in reformed cirles that all we need is faith alone to be saved. Indeed salvation by grace through faith alone is the hallmark of the reformed faith.
Yet, this theology has been used to canvass for a Christianity that permits for Christians to be lackadaisical about their walk with Christ; it is a theology that gives the impression that carnality in the Christian life is not a big deal. They even go to the extent of saying that if a born again Christian where to perish while engaging in sin, that person will still be saved – since faith alone is sufficient for our salvation. MacArthur contended that obedience or woks are the only evidence that a person is converted to Christ. So, if a professing reformed person is living a carnal life and is not committed to his profession as a Christian; while a non professing reformed person is seen to have been genuinely converted, like the case was with Mr. Chiofalo; who will we say has met the Lord Jesus Christ? I hope you will agree with me that the answer is the latter. A person may not profess salvation by faith alone but if his life is truly transformed after he had heard the gospel and repented of his sins – he is a Christian.
I write all these to say to my reformed friends: BEWARE. Recently on the Reformed Naija TV, a YouTube based work, we discovered that a certain brother, Korede Olawoyin, was leading a ministry to Muslims in Nigeria. Korede is not reformed but he has a wealth of knowledge and experience at ministering to Muslims. We have been inviting him to our platform to teach us ministry to Muslims. My point is that there are aspects of the Christian ministry that reformed folks are genuinely excellent at. But we must reach a point where we realize we do not know everything. The truth is that because of the emphasis different Christian denominations pay on different areas of the Christian life, they all have their strengths in all these areas. A wise Christian will establish relationships with other Christians with the hope of gleaning from their strength for greater effectiveness in ministry.
Lastly, regardless of the Christian tradition that we belong to we must never let issues becloud our calling to reach the nations with the gospel. It is very possible that the organization that rehabilitated Mr. Chiofalo was not a reformed organization. Yet they had the gospel enough in them to see a sinner come to Christ and that sinner pursue his son to come to faith in the Lord Jesus. That is our primary calling as Christians.
I am not suggesting that holding to a reformed theological perspective is wrong; what I am saying is that our commitment to a theology or a denomination should not be at the expense of the ultimate goal of our Lord and Savior – which is that all men may hear the gospel and be given the opportunity to trust Christ as Lord. The reason why some of us are committed to the reformed tradition is because we see no other theological tradition in Christendom that is as faithful to the scripture. And the end message of scripture is the relaying of the redemptive story that God has been working out since creation and which came to a climax in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Christian’s duty is to relay this messsage to a world heading to an eternity without God and without his Christ. Reformed theology should continually renew our commitment to the great commission. Where this is not the case, whatever profession of the reformed message we might be bearing will just be mere religion.
I was deeply affected by the testimony of the conversion of Mr. Chiofalo and the subsequent conversion of his son, Pete, who is now likely in his late 50s and is himself raising a godly family in the name of the Lord. That a man be converted and that he influences his family to Christ, while being a vessel to influence society for God, should be the ultimate goal of the Christian. If you are a Christian reading this, I hope you share this vision in life. If you are not a Christian, I plead with you that you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved.