We say we believe in evangelism, until someone has the courage to do it

October 24, 2017

The above quote was purportedly the Rev. Moody’s response to a woman who criticized his methods of evangelism. He said, “I agree. I don’t like my methods, either. How do you do it?” She said, “I don’t.” “Well, in that case, I like my way of doing things better than your way of not doing them.”

I hope he said it—it’s funny, plus it encourages all of us Christians to try to do something rather than nothing when it comes to witnessing.

Just today, I read on Facebook about an 87-year-old retired Methodist minister in North Carolina who handed out gospel tracts that looked like auto insurance cards—except in this case the insurance was related to the eternal life made available through Christ. Yes, it was a little corny, as these things tend to be, but the information was true. And to the man’s credit, he put his name and number on the card for people to follow up with him.

My clergy colleague posted a picture of this card approvingly, and he was criticized (naturally). We contemporary Methodists say we believe in evangelism, until someone actually has the courage to do it. One of my friend’s critics, whom I gather is also a Methodist minister, said that he believes in hell as a reality that people experience in the here and now. He neither confirmed nor denied that hell was an eternal reality. Regardless, our evangelistic efforts, he said, should be first aimed at saving people from this kind of hell. (If you didn’t go to mainline Protestant seminary, you won’t know how common this view of hell is, unfortunately.) Finally, he said that attempting to “scare people” into God’s kingdom is ineffective.

In response, I wrote the following:

Props to this retired minister for living as if he really believes that heaven and hell hang in the balance—and not (mainly) in the here and now but for eternity. If we don’t believe that, as Jerry Walls has said, then it’s no wonder our enthusiasm for evangelism has waned. To whatever extent we experience heaven or hell in the here and now, it pales in comparison to the heaven or hell that we will experience in eternity. And all we know for sure is that we have this life to repent and believe in Christ. Time is running out. Our mission is urgent.

In Acts 20, Paul tells the Ephesian elders, “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all.” Who among us UMC ministers can say that? I am not innocent. I have hardly done all I can to share the gospel with people in my corner of the world. And whatever his shortcomings, this elderly minister’s method of evangelism certainly beats my (usual) method of non-evangelism.

Theologically speaking, I find the fear of “turning people off” to border on Pelagianism. We’re not in charge, ultimately, of whether or not people believe the gospel, or even how they react to it. That’s the job of the Holy Spirit. I’m not saying that grabbing a bullhorn and a stack of Jack Chick tracts is as good as other methods. But I am saying that It’s clear from scripture that many people will be turned off—no matter how sensitively and lovingly we offer the gospel to them.

Finally, as far as “scaring” people, nothing we say is scarier than Jesus’ own words about Final Judgment and hell. “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

Thoughts?

5 Responses to “We say we believe in evangelism, until someone has the courage to do it”

  1. Grant Essex Says:

    We’ve all experienced advice givers in our lives. Some are very good. One very good bit of advice I once got included the following within a whole list of bullet points:

    * Speak out for what you believe in.
    Speak out against what you do not believe in.
    The wrong is in remaining silent.

    I think that is pretty good advice here and elsewhere in life.

  2. Paul W. Says:

    When it comes to evangelism, most of us talk a good game, but, when the rubber meets the road, we are cowards. God provides us with endless opportunities, but too often we (and by “we”, I mean “I”) self-justify why now is not a good time. If we truly believe that the eternal destinies of those around us hang in the balance, then not acting is a grave sin (c.f., Acts 20:26). The church itself is a terrible witness to the need to evangelize; how often have we convinced ourselves that it’s okay that I’m not evangelizing, since no one else is doing it either?

    We claim to believe the Scriptures, but we behave as if we expect God to provide others to do the “good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” [Eph. 2:10]. It is really easy to pray for the salvation of our neighbors, friends, and acquaintances, but much harder to actually have those conversations. And when we do have those conversations, don’t we (and by “we”, I mean “I”) often cut them short, with the excuse that we’ve done our part by planting a seed?

    The only bad form of evangelism that I’ve personally witnessed are those street preachers who harshly shout out verses of condemnation at the gathered crowd (who usually are heckling them) and refuse to engage in any dialogue where the gospel could be presented. Even then though, if you are there, the presence of the bad preacher opens a great opportunity for side discussions within the crowd.

    In regards to those UMC ministers that do not believe in heaven or hell (or sin and salvation for that matter) or “believe” only by redefining the meanings of the terms, I think we do the church a grave disservice when we pretend that they are fellow Christians. The reality is that they are really just unbelievers who need to come to faith in Christ or face the wrath which is to come. Pretending otherwise makes us complicit in both their fate and in the fates of those they deceive. And, yes, I know how tough this is since over half of our bishops and pastors arguably fall into this category.

  3. Tom Harkins Says:

    “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Good reference here! I certainly plead guilty to not doing enough to evangelize, and, frequently, generally speaking, for fear of the response. One person I am particularly chagrined about in this regard is a lady named “Lainie,” the waitress who always waits the table that a friend of mine from work (also a believer) always sit at. Please pray that I might have opportunity, and courage, to say something to her about this eternal matter. Thanks!


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