…In short, because Jesus and His disciples did, and I have every reason to think both Him and the Bible writers expect us to as well.
I can see why folks like Carl Medearis would write books on the Art of Not-Evangelizing, and why guys like him encourage Christians to stop. It’s hard to keep doing what’s unpopular, and evangelizing is definitely not popular in our postmodern age that tends to equate exclusivity (and evangelism is, of necessity, exclusive) with all that’s wrong with the world.
It’s almost like Medearis and friends are downright evangelical about not-evangelizing….at least when it comes to Christians. Muslims, secularists, and new agers, go ahead. Others may, Christians may not.
Which is weird, because Jesus, Paul and co. had no problem with it, and they had no problem encouraging disciples of Christ–that means us Christians…today–to do the same.
When Paul writes
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
and when Jesus said
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
I don’t know how you could miss it. Yes, I know, Paul was writing to Timothy, a pastor, but I don’t think it follows that we’re exempt from that. Hey, when Jesus said “teach them to obey everything I have commanded,” that means everything.
In addition, why would we want to keep the Gospel from others? Put aside, for the moment, the fact that telling others about the Gospel, with its message about the universality of sin and need to be saved, and its message that only in Jesus is the proper solution found, is incredibly unpopular in our ear-itching age. Gospel means, even though exclusive, good news. Hey, if a cure for cancer was found, that’d be exclusive too, but we’d unequivocably call that good news. Why would it be any different for the cure to spiritual cancer?
I get that Christians might need to communicate that message differently in the twenty first century. No need to rely upon sandwich sign and bullhorn, and you don’t need to share the whole gospel in every conversation, but we must be willing, able, and ready….communicate it we must.
Christians, think for a moment. What if–just go with me here–the things that Jesus said are actually true–not just “true for us,” but true in every sense of the word? (That’s part of it, right? If this stuff isn’t truly true, then why be a Christian? Just hang it up.)
We hold that humans are many times over criminals in God’s court. Every day we break His law. What we’ve earned for our rap sheet is hell. Not nice, but it’s justice. God, in His mercy, offers us a pardon, but its on His terms, not ours, and His terms are forgiveness through Jesus, who was not just a great leader, but God incarnate. Take it or leave it.
What if that is actually true? Then we’d better tell it to people, if we really love them. Just like if a loved one had a fatal disease and was using ice cream to cure it…if you had the cure in your backpack and refused to give it to him, just encouragaing him to be a better “ice cream eater,” you could not lay claim to love him/her. If we stick to seminars about how Jesus was a great leader, we are being derelict of our duty.
Some of what Medearis says sounds great, but the problem is that upon inspection, his words do not bring clarity, but confusion.
Here’s a sampling:
Even the Apostle Paul insisted that it’s faith in Jesus that matters, not converting to a new religion or a new socio-religious identity.
What if evangelicals today, instead of focusing on “evangelizing” and “converting” people, were to begin to think of Jesus not as starting a new religion, but as the central figure of a movement that transcends religious distinctions and identities?
Jesus the uniter of humanity, not Jesus the divider. How might that change the way we look at others?
When I used to think of myself as a missionary, I was obsessed with converting Muslims (or anybody for that matter) to what I thought of as “Christianity.” I had a set of doctrinal litmus tests that the potential convert had to pass before I would consider them “in” or one of “us.”
Funny thing is, Jesus never said, “Go into the world and convert people to Christianity.” What he said was, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”
Encouraging anyone and everyone to become an apprentice of Jesus, without manipulation, is a more open, dynamic and relational way of helping people who want to become more like Jesus — regardless of their religious identity.
A few thoughts. First, yes, Jesus united people, but He united people around Him, God incarnate, the only solution to man’s problem. He didn’t come to simply inaugurate a general, vague, content-less unity centered on human good will and interfaith dialogue. He came to divide too: those who embraced His Father’s offer of forgiveness, and those who rejected it. If you miss that, just ask the Pharisees; they were often at the receiving end of His division.
This does not mean that Christians circle the wagons and adopt an “us-vs-them” mentality. It does not mean we make our love conditional or that those who disagree with us are dirty or unworthy. I don’t know why anyone would think it does mean that.
Our invitation (aka, the “Gospel”) to embrace Jesus as Lord is to always remain open to all. But this “rough side” of Jesus is one that needs to be reckoned with, not ignored.
Secondly, “doctrine” is another four letter word in our age, and Medearis treats it as such, but it need not be. Doctrine is simply “belief.” Everyone, including Medearis, has doctrines. You cannot separate apprenticeship to Jesus from doctrine.
True, no need to obsess over infralapsarianism or make the Five Points of Calvinism a necessity for salvation…but you cannot divorce devotion to Jesus from beliefs about Jesus. I can’t even do that with my wife. If I tried, sooner or later I’d end up smooching the wrong woman, which wouldn’t go over well with her. Doing the same with Jesus wouldn’t go over well with Him either.
Third, his comments reflect a false dichotomy. Yeah, I know, “religion” is a dirty word these days, but it should not be. A religion is simply a worldview or set of beliefs, often accompanied by certain rituals or disciplines, about ultimate questions such as “who are we? How did we get here? What is the problem with humanity and what is the solution?” Did Jesus teach about answers to those questions? Yep. In that sense, did He start a religion? Yes, centered around Himself.
Fourth, I don’t know what the big deal about “conversion” is. Conversion is simply persuading someone to adopt certain beliefs, practices, etc. Medearis’ beliefnet column is an effort in conversion…he wants me to drop by current beliefs/practices about Jesus, Christianity, and religion, and pick up his. Why does he do what he wants me to stop doing?
Granted, some methods of persuading are better than others. Jesus was not a fan of the sword, but He definitely was a fan of vocal proclamation about all He taught and represented.
Finally, though it sounds nice to think someone can be an apprentice of Jesus and still remain a member of another religion–say, Islam–that is a bunch of hooey.
While some beliefs in the Islam religion overlap with what Jesus taught, much of it conflicts. For instance, the belief that Jesus is *only* a prophet, calling Him “God incarnate” is a grand sin, and He did not die on the cross. All these are central to Islam, and any good Muslim believes them. Any apprentice of Jesus who is worthy of the name will categorically reject them.
You just can’t get around these things. Trying makes you an apprentice of someone other than Jesus…or perhaps it makes you an apprentice of a Jesus-made-in-your-own-image. Neither will be ultimately helpful to you and your loved ones.