How do we evangelize? Do we focus on commonalities or differences? I think that this is a question we need to consider with each encounter – How can we most faithfully be an ambassador for Christ?
Here is a thought that should make our decision a little easier – When we put our Lord first (Matthew 6:33), we are also putting the other person first. Why is this so? Because there is no distinction between loving God and loving our neighbor:
- Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. (1 John 5:1-3; ESV)
If loving God, by keeping His commandments, is to love others, how do we keep His commandments in regards to being an ambassador? I have several suggestions:
THERE IS NO ONE RIGHT WAY TO EVANGELIZE. Every person and situation is different, and we therefore need the Spirit’s guidance for each encounter. Sometimes, He might lead us to initially shine the light of Christ through loving acts, as Jesus commanded:
- But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. Matthew 5:44-45 (ESV)
However, it seems like the preponderance of verses that command “good works” pertain firstly to the household of faith (Hebrews 6:10:
- So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:10)
- By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the BROTHERS. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his BROTHER in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? (1 John 3:16-17)
- She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives… But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (1 Timothy 5:5-8)
Giving is largely to be done discriminately:
- For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12)
There are times when giving is unloving and can encourage laziness.
LOVE IS ONE OF THE MOST POTENT FORMS OF EVANGELISM WHEN IT BEGINS WITH THE HOUSEHOLD OF FAITH. This might sound chauvinistic, but so too is family. In fact, we recognize a husband’s virtue by his devotion to his family. He is not esteemed when he loves all wives or all children equally but those of his own household. If instead we saw a husband spending equal time with the wives and children of his neighbors, we would feel sorry, as we should, for his own neglected family. The same thing pertains to the Body of Christ. Jesus therefore prayed:
- “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17:20-23)
From Jesus’ prayer, we see that the best way to love the world is to first love the brethren. It is this love and unity that will draw others to the One who can truly love them. Likewise, the best way to love our neighbors is to first love our own families.
I say this because many Christians have become ashamed of the Gospel and also the Church. Yes, we are always in need of reformation but not rejection.
THE MAIN WAY OF EVANGELISM – THE SPOKEN WORD! Jesus’s Great Commission was centered on proclamation of the Gospel:
- [Jesus] said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:46-48)
It was an obligatory message:
- 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)
This proclamation was to be centered on “all that I have commanded you.” Jesus gave them no license to pick-and-choose among their favorite teachings. Instead, it had to include the totality of His teachings. And it had to begin with Jesus’ sheep (John 21:15-17).
This didn’t mean that His disciples could not lead with deeds of love, but the performance of these works needed to keep in mind the ultimate goal – the ultimate act of love of sharing Christ:
- For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? (Matthew 16:26)
How shall we help another to gain his soul? We have to remind ourselves that the proclamation of the Gospel is uniquely empowered by the Spirit. Therefore, Peter could write:
- May grace and peace be
multiplied to you in the KNOWLEDGE of God and of Jesus our Lord. His
divine power has granted to us ALL things that pertain to life and
godliness, through the KNOWLEDGE of him who called us to his own glory and
excellence. (2 Peter 1:2-3)
Jesus too was focused on the centrality of the Word:
- Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. (Luke 24:45)
This had also been the case in the Hebrew Scriptures. David had asked God to illuminate Scripture for him:
- Open my eyes, that I may
behold wondrous things out of your law. (Psalm 119:18)
In view of this, people were never saved merely by acts of love. Instead, God validated His Word above all else in the hearts and minds of the unbeliever:
- And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. (Acts 13:48)
- One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. (Acts 16:14)
He had ordained salvation by the preaching of His Word:
- How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:14-15)
Biblical belief was not possible apart from preaching. Cornelius had been a pious man, but God had directed him to send for Peter in order to hear the Gospel and be saved (Acts 10). We therefore should not expect people to be saved by alone seeing our self-sacrificial lives. Our acts of love must, at some point, be accompanied by the proclamation of the Gospel.
Nor can we change or water-down God’s Word in order to make it “more acceptable.” Nor do we have the freedom to call “brother” those who are not brothers in order to build a bridge to influence them for the Gospel.
Apologist Eric Johnson offers an illuminating example. He is critical of those who build bridges with Mormons by unduly emphasizing the commonalities. Of course, it is difficult to know who Jesus truly receives as His brothers. However, in the case of Mormonism, there are serious reasons for hesitation. Johnson writes:
- BYU [Brigham Young University] professor Grant Underwood concluded that “the doctrine of human potential to become like their heavenly Father is central to the gospel of Jesus Christ.” (Christian Research Journal, Vol. 39, No. 02, 52)
This makes the deified human into an equal with both Jesus and the Father, who had not always been perfect. Shouldn’t then these humans likewise be worshipped?
Johnson cites another Mormon scholar, Robert L. Millet, who denies that Mormon’s should worship humans:
- “Even though we believe in the ultimate deification of human beings, I am unaware of any authoritative statement in LDS literature that suggests that men and women will ever worship any being other than the ones within the Godhead.” (52)
However, Mormonism offers no compelling reason why such deified humans shouldn’t be worshipped. Besides, Mormons seem to come close to this. Johnson writes:
- A church manual used by the laity in 2015 states, “The most important prophet, so far as we are concerned, is the one who is living in our day and age. This is the prophet who has today’s instructions from God to us.” (53)
The head of the Mormon organization is the Prophet. His word is pre-eminent over everything else. Therefore, he cannot be criticized and is the ultimate authority, as Scripture is for us.
What then does it mean to love the Mormon? To love God and to put His Word/commands above all else! This is to recognize that we do not have the freedom to play fast-and-loose with His Words. This is not love. Instead, love is what had been exemplified by Jesus when tempted by the Devil:
- But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by EVERY word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4)
We should do no less!