Tuesday, May 22, 2012

THE GOSPEL & proselytizing

proselytizeverb [pros-uh-li-tahyz]
To convert or attempt to convert as a proselyte;  recruit.
proselytenoun [pros-uh-lahyt]
A person who has changed from one opinion, religious belief, sect, or the like, to another; convert.
Why proselytize? Recently on Facebook I observed a conversation initiated by a comment made by an acquaintance of mine. I think it paints a fairly accurate picture of how proselytizing is often received in our culture.
"Why do religious people always *(insert explicative)* talk about God and crap.... I never hear the rest of us talking about how He is not real, do ya now!!!!"
The subsequent comments were generally supportive of this sentiment, many laden with foul language and offering various aggressive ways in which to respond to someone talking about "religion". There is an illustrative point here that I will get to, but first there is the bigger question of, why evangelize at all? Clearly the world doesn't want to hear from us. (John 14:24, John 15:21)

I believe there are three excellent answers to the question "Why proselytize"; and there very well may be a plethora, but these are the very best reasons why we should proselytize, so I will limit this blog to just these.

Number One
First and foremost, it is a command of God that we teach and disciple. There is no greater reason to do anything than that it is a command of our Almighty Father.
"And He said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned." Mark 16:15-16
"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." Matthew 28:19-20
"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." Acts 1:8
Number Two
The second reason that we should proselytize, although further reasons are not necessary beyond the first, is that, as believers, we should be filled with the Love of God and have no greater desire than to have that flow from us and share with all those who do not know Christ. Another command of God is found in Mark;
"And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that He answered them well, asked Him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:28-31
Here we are commanded to love God and in loving God, love others as ourselves. We have no greater treasure than that which is in Christ Jesus. To love another as ourselves is to share in every way possible, all of the truth of the Gospel with our neighbours. Our love for God (and His for us), our desire to serve Him in our all, naturally becomes a lifestyle of presenting Him.

Number Three
The third reason I feel that we, as followers of Christ, should proselytize is because our world is so very dark and full of false religions, false teachers and humanistic philosophies. This is not a new situation. Heretical religions, false teachers and the over inflated importance of self have all been opposing forces of God since Eve was first deceived in the garden (Genesis 3:1-24, Deuteronomy 11:16, 2 Corinthians 11:3-4). Eve was tempted with self, selfish gain and self indulgence. The serpent offered her the opportunity to be "like God", when in fact, if Eve had considered this at all, she would have realized that she had already been created in God's image (Genesis 1:27). This deception of the Devil was his first lie and continues to be his most powerful weapon. Today we hear and see nothing more predominant than the value and importance of self, and rights and equality, all of which are pieces of an over arching cultural worldview that is contrary to God's Word and the Biblical worldview. False teachers are a blight in this world and serve to turn people aside from the true Gospel of Jesus Christ, and they have been poisoning the earth for thousands of years (Ezekiel 22:28). Today still, false teachers serve only to lead people astray, and they will ultimately be held accountable (James 3:1-9). A friend of mine, Sean Crowe, is writing an excellent blog series on false teachers, you can read part one of the multi-part series by clicking HERE (and I highly recommend that you read through his series). As Sean makes clear in his articles, the greatest danger of false teachers is that they speak in the name of Christianity, yet their teachings are directly contrary to the teachings of scripture.

Aside from false teachers, we must also contend with false religions and cults, some of the most prevalent being Islam, Mormonism, and Jehovah's Witness; but there are many. We must be aware of false teachers, false religions and humanism and be prepared ourselves to respond when confronted with their philosophies;
"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth." ~ 2 Timothy 2:15.
Here I have presented three great reasons to proselytize, and over the course of this blog series I have shared some of what I feel are the most effective ways (here and here), and some of the ineffective ways (here, here and here), of doing so. But, the comments associated with the Facebook quote at the top of this article do draw attention to some important facts. We, as Christians are a reflection of Christ, yet we seem bent on evangelizing as quickly, efficiently and conveniently as possible; instead of following the commands of Christ in Mark 12:28-31, Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 1:8 and Mark 16:15-16. This can often serve only to turn people off from hearing the Gospel. It is our reasonable service (Romans 12:1-2) to take the time (spending our lives as living sacrifices; which is our purpose before God) to build those relationships and teach the Gospel clearly and appropriately. Penn Jillette is an ardent atheist and is very outspoken with his opinions and philosophies, yet he echoes some important truth about proselytizing, and doing so in a manner that is reflective of Christ. Have a look for yourself;

Evangelism and proselytizing is about so much more than simply hiding tracts in books at the bookstore, wearing quasi-evangelistic t-shirts or going door to door. Although there may be a time and place for those activities, God's Word calls us to disciple, to build relationships and lovingly and respectfully share His Word. We should never engage in these activities while ignoring the needs and opportunities afforded us in our workplace and community to build discipling relationships. If we are living our lives in a context of godliness then we are naturally going to seize every opportunity to share the Love of Christ, but it must always be done in such a way as to not diminish the message.

The world does not want to know Christ or the Gospel (John 15:18-25,), it is our task, as believers, to make them hear (Matthew 10:16). I should point out that this can often lead people into living lives akin to the "social gospel", which is a philosophy that teaches that the world can "see Christ" in our actions alone and we need never actually verbally burden people with the Truth. I am in no way endorsing this, although we are to live lives reflective of Christ, we are commanded to disciple and teach (Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 16:15-16) which is strong language for go and adequately communicate the Gospel in word and deed. There is a great book that deals with the subject of apologetics and evangelism, Ask Them Why by Jay Lucas. His book deals with some of the difficulties in communicating with the world's philosophies.

God calls us to be good stewards, this can be seen in the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30, Luke 19:12-28). We have been given a precious gift (Psalm 32:1-2, Romans 4:7-8, Romans 5:8-9), and we must not squander it and hide our heads in the sand for the sake of self while the world descends into hell (Luke 12:5).

God owns us, we are bound to serve Him (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), we have a physical responsibility to Him (Genesis 1:28-30) and a spiritual responsibility (Mark 12:28-30). The idea that we are free to do as we choose is a deception of the devil (Romans 2:4-5, Hebrews 3:12-13), for everything we do that is not of God is sin (Romans 14:23b), and we are not free to sin (Romans 6:23, 1 John 3:9, 1 John 5:18). We are free to serve God, and to serve God is to proselytize (Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 1:8 and Mark 16:15-16).

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