Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Proselytism and Evangelism - Just Stop It!

I’ve been perusing a few "Jewish" sites and am somewhat amazed at the level of anger regarding the behaviours of some Christians re: Proselytism and Evangelism. While I don’t expect non Christians to care one whit about a Christian’s "internal need" to tell others about Jesus, I’m convinced that their irritation does in fact arise from two things:
1) Ignorance 2) An uncomfortable truth that hits home with the force of a cannon ball.

The thing is, all of us proselytize and evangelise. While some people get paid huge bucks to sway people’s opinion from one product to another, all of us want to convert other people to our way of thinking on numerous issues. Atheists want to dissuade people of faith and they make a concerted effort when presenting their case. People who are concerned about the looming disaster of global warming are desperate to let others know about the need for all of us to change our ways. If the topic of concern is of critical importance to you, if what you believe or what you’ve discovered has, in your mind, ultimate value not just to yourself but to others, it's just human nature to tell others about that discovery. That, I think, is where Christianity separates from all other religions.

People who have opened their hearts to Jesus, and I’m talking from experience, have found the greatest news on earth. You see, Christians have already been where non Christians are; living apart from and in rebellion to the idea of Jesus as Saviour. Non Christians have not yet been where we are. To tell us that we don’t have anything special is like someone else telling me whether my orange tastes bitter or sweet. I’ve had a taste of the non Christian or nominal christian fruit. They haven’t had a taste of mine. When Christians watch how other people, religious or not, cope with life, we recognise ourselves in our pre Christian days. We see a profound need for change and we know Who can make the needed change in those lives. No one knows there is a need for change until Jesus confronts them with the facts. It's like, most people don't know they have heart disease until they're slammed by a heart attack or stroke. They don't get the message until the messenger arrives. Jesus has asked His followers to be His messengers to a really sick world. In fact it's the recognition of our own sickness that has brought us to Jesus in the first place.

People in a forgiven relationship with Jesus have found a treasure beyond description. Something wonderful beyond compare has happened in their lives. There is a gospel or good news that needs telling. A healed, forgiven, and intimate relationship with Jesus is so good that to keep it to oneself is practically impossible. Besides the whole aspect of where you'll spend eternity, to discover the source of joy and peace and strength that sustains in the face of death, severe or chronic illness or tremendous loss etc. is a treasure that makes it irresponsible to NOT share with others. This peace inspite of circumstance just doesn’t seem to be the present with people of other religions or those with no faith. Sure they have joy when life is good, but let a child die, the lay-off notice come, or the spot on the lung show up on the xray and then watch what happens. I digress.

Regardless of the political aspirations of Islam, I believe that other religions don’t evangelise because there really isn’t any gospel to tell. There isn’t any good news worth sharing. Every religion except the one based on a relationship with Jesus is just the same-old, same-old. Far eastern religions (Buddhism, Hinduism etc.) self-describe their spiritual journey as an "endless cycle of rebirth and suffering." Actually it’s not quite endless. One Hindu mathematician has calculated the trip to paradise as taking approximately 6,800,000 reincarnations. Other religions, while making one feel quite spiritual, require endless repetitions of washing, dipping, fasting, good deeds, ritual prayers, rule keeping, working, working and working some more to please some god or thousands of gods.

Christianity is based on a relationship with Jesus the Christ who said that salvation requires only one thing - the acceptance of His grace. Jesus said that all we need to do, in fact all that we CAN do, to please God and receive His salvation is to accept His love and forgiveness.

No one would invent this kind of belief system because our arrogance and pride demands that WE be responsible for our salvation. We want to take ownership of our salvation. We want to do away with the necessity of God even while acquiescing to His existence. Even in religions where we believe in the same God (Judaism) and the same Word of God, there is a huge difference in interpretation. Judaism believes that one adheres to the ‘rules’ of cleanliness, festivals, Sabbaths etc. to please God. Christians believe that God gave the rules, in large part, to show that we cannot please Him by keeping the rules precisely because we don’t keep them. We cannot save ourselves. That’s why Jesus said that all of the Older Testament, the Pentateuch, the Law and the Prophets pointed to Him. The Law simply shows our desperate need for a Saviour.

Look at it this way. Let’s say you and a friend were living on the street. You barely had enough to eat. You’re malnourished and hungry all day every day. And let’s say you discovered a place just down the street where every day there was a free banquet. Would you tell your buddy? Surely it would be repugnant to not tell your friend. Of course if all you found was half a bite-size piece of donut you might as well keep it to yourself. But what if you found this huge amount of food that was free for the taking? Well, evangelism or proselytism is simply one beggar telling another beggar where to find a mother-load of food. This is doubly the case when the beggar who has found food believes the other beggar is about to starve to death. You may disagree with me about your spiritual condition, but if I believe that what Jesus said about life, death and eternity is true, and I and other Christians do believe that what Jesus said is true, then we MUST try to tell others.

Now, if other beggars absolutely believe that the life they have is as good as it gets and don’t want to hear about a free banquet down the street, or they don't believe that free food exists, then of course those beggars should be left to survive or die in any way they choose. But surely we must at least tell them. Especially since the fact is that some beggars aren’t content with the life they have. Some beggars are in fact open to hearing about alternatives. And telling a starving person about a banquet that’s being held down the street is not coercion. And it shouldn’t be seen as offensive. Telling someone the good news about Jesus’ love and forgiveness shouldn’t be seen as coercive or offensive either.

You have a right to talk to me about something that is really important to you (be it atheism, how many kids to have, what car is environmentally correct, or even which party to vote for etc.) and I have a right to agree or disagree as I choose.

Proselytism and Evangelism - we all do it. Let’s just live and let live and stop trying to force others to quit doing what comes naturally to all of us.

No body is so good that they don’t need forgiveness from God. No body is so bad that they cannot receive forgiveness from God upon repentance.

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