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A very nice Salvation Army soldier (not an officer) gave me a churchy book this week… one that he had paid $15 for.  He was convinced that I would love it, so much so that he was happy to pay that much money for me to read it.  Well, of course, that put a bit of emotional pressure on me to at least give it a try.  When I do read a well-written Christian book, I usually have a mixed reaction.  If it’s really well-written, I invariably see good stuff in it; but there is also the overwhelming disappointment about what has been left out.

Anyway, this one was no exception.  It was on how to evangelise the world, one on one.  Some great stuff about being faithful, being patient, being willing to go out of your way for the lost.  But one thing (the usual one) deeply disturbed me, and that is the message that is preached once someone makes the effort to “evangelise” the world for God.  I don’t wish to split hairs with the author over tiny theological differences; yet the lack in the message, at least in my experience, sums up the answer to all of the other problems associated with evangelism that the book was supposed to be trying to address.

Put simply, the average believer doesn’t really know what it is that they are supposed to do to “save” someone, and, sadly, the people writing the books don’t either.  But because no one really tells them what is missing, the books keep coming out, with each one promising to provide the missing piece to what it means to win souls, save people, lead them to Christ, or whatever other name you want to give it.

But let’s start with something good that the book said.  The author shared that a lot of people try to corner him over whether or not he actually leads people in saying the sinner’s prayer when he is “evangelising”, and he pointed out that it’s not really a matter of memorising the “Four Spiritual Laws” or some other mantra of salvation… that he is happy if he can lead someone just a few steps closer to faith in God, from a negative 10, for example, to a negative 8.  He explained how it may take several people breaking up the ground, planting a seed here or there, pouring in a little water, and a lot of patient waiting before someone finally responds from a deep inner conviction to what has been shared.  The main thing is that we stay open to any little nudges that God’s Spirit may give us, to say things (or do things) that will show God’s love, and make people want to hear more of what we have to say.  Sometimes it’s just as simple as being a friend.

But in the end, the author still accepted that inviting someone to church (where the pastor might lead them to recite a little prayer), or going through a recited prayer with them yourself still was more or less the ultimate goal.

At one point he even referred to the Gospel as “the Galatians message”, and repeatedly talked about how it was all about recognising that God isn’t interested in how much we try to do good; what he really wants is for us to stop trying to be good and to just thank him for doing it all for us.

Without a doubt, there are good verses in the Bible to support the teaching that none of us will ever be good enough to demand eternal life from God on the basis of our good works. Jesus came offering eternal life as a gift… not as payment.  Paul, in particular, had a lot to say about that.  But are we trying to lead these people to Paul?  or should we be leading them to Jesus?

You don’t have to read far in the gospels to see that Jesus never once suggested that people should stop trying to be good.  In fact, he seemed to recognise good works as reasonable evidence of what it is that he really is looking for in people.  When asked what one must do to inherit eternal life (Luke 10:25-37), Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan… a man who showed love for his neighbour.  Jesus said that the whole Bible could be summed up in two commands:  One, to love God, and the other to love other human beings as much as we love ourselves.

There was not a hint of suggestion that people should NOT try to do those things.  Quite the opposite came through in what Jesus taught.  So if we want to introduce them to Jesus, then we need to get them listening to what HE said, and not what someone else has said.

The author of this book on evangelism was concerned that most Christians (and especially those who had been Christians for ten years or more) did little or nothing to bring anyone else to Christ.  “Bring anyone else to Christ” might be the words that he would use; but I didn’t really think those words summed up what was coming through between the lines.  It was more like bringing someone to church and making them part of the fellowship.

Books on evangelism sell in the first place, because they promise to help build attendances at church.  If a pastor can get 3,000 members in his church, and especially if they are putting up buildings as fast as they are joining, then he can write whatever he likes about how he did it, and a thousand other pastors will buy the books.  Everyone just assumes (or pretends?) that what they will find at the church is Jesus, and so the end will justify the means.  But do they really find Jesus at church?

Ritual prayers and diagrams with a CROSS acting as a BRIDGE across a chasm marked DEATH don’t really take the place of introducing someone to the Jesus of the Bible.  And people who follow some very good advice about concentrating on just being friends to begin with, usually find that whipping out a Bible or tract is one of the quickest ways to sour the friendship.  Real friends have fun together, whether it's planning a camping trip, going shopping together, or getting together for a game of cards.  If a Bible comes out at all, it jolts unnaturally, which is precisely why the more experienced church members just give up such “witnessing” after a few attempts and settle for giving an odd invitation to church at best, which usually is refused anyway, unless there is some particularly good entertainment accompanying the sermon.

But if you have actually met Jesus, and are actually following his teachings, living like he and his early followers did, then it’s the card game or the outing to the mall that is most likely to seem out of place.  It doesn’t take long before people observe that you don’t live like them.  You are, for starters, no longer working for money.  That in itself is going to raise eyebrows and ultimately raise questions.  And from that flow all kinds of other oddities (and questions).

Do you see what I’m saying?  A New Testament Christian lifestyle doesn’t require one to interject talk about God.  The general public is going to be almost embarrassingly aware of some really weird stuff going on even when we are doing the most innocent things with them.  We have been described as the sort of people who turn the world upside-down.  They will come asking questions, or they will consciously move away from us, but they will definitely not be inclined to think of us as being just the same as everyone else.

I once told someone, who was obsessed with being “radical” that when you are really radical, you tend to do things that kind of hide your radicalness, just to keep from scaring people off too quickly.  It’s like that with a really radical Christian.  Sooner or later people are going to discover for themselves that we are different.  “Witnessing” is not a case of forcing ourselves to bring up talk about God; often it’s more a case of forcing ourselves to hold back a bit longer, so that we don’t scare the living daylights out of them!

So I’m all in favour of the slow, patient, friendship approach to witnessing, even though I can’t see it working for very long to hide the changed lifestyle of someone who has ceased to work for the system and is now available 24/7 to work for God.  If only we could worm our way inside some of these churches and introduce them to the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount… the Jesus of history.  If we could do that, I’m sure that witnessing would start coming naturally for them to, without a need to pay $15 for another book that goes around in circles without ever introducing anyone to the real Jesus.
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