Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Failure of Evangelism Through Politics

"And Jesus came and said to them, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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'" (Matt. 28:18-20).

Go and make disciples is the command that Jesus gave his disciples and us. Unfortunately, over the last few decades the American church has failed miserably to heed this call and I cannot help but wonder, why? Well, obviously there are many reasons why we in the US have come up far short, but today I just want to address a major problem that we tend disguise as evangelism or at least misrepresent it as "working for the Lord."

Over the last few decades the American church has made a major push to increase its influence in our culture. We have sought to extend this influence into areas such as entertainment and public policy. One need only to turn on the national news or open a news paper to see the "Christian right" protesting this or that. Now, do not get me wrong, I fully understand that God cares about the morality of the nations, especially in areas such as the sanctity of human life. However, it seems that on the whole we American Christians have a lot of misguided energy. Does Jesus call us to make public policy or does he call us to make disciples?

Now, I can already hear some of my more politically minded Christian brothers and sisters pulling out their hair at this point because they think I'm about to go all liberal or social gospel on everyone, but hear me out. There is no question that the Roman world in the first century dramatically more depraved than the US is today. But nowhere in the NT do I see Paul and the apostles gathering people to take on the immoral social policy of the Roman government for Christ. What I do see though is the early disciples going from place to place proclaiming the good news of the gospel, caring for the marginalized and oppressed, leading people to Christ, setting up churches, and teaching these early converts the implications of the gospel in their personal lives and the life of their communities. And what was the result? Radical life change which eventually led to radical social change. What I did not see was Peter calling together all the local churches to rally in the street to make sure that everyone knew that homosexuality, etc. was wrong. Yet, this is exactly what we do. We make sure that everyone in our society knows exactly what the Bible teaches is right and wrong, we expect our politicians to make laws that reflect this (which in itself is not a bad thing), and are infuriated by and disgusted with people who practice things against what the Bible teaches hoping that if we can just get them to understand that they are wrong and we are right that then they will see the love of Jesus. Guess what though? THEY DON'T KNOW CHRIST, SO WE SHOULD NOT EXPECT THEM TO LIVE LIKE THEY DO. Before any of us were/are born again we were all DEAD in our sins.

Imagine a group of people who do not know the slightest bit about you except for a specific sin that you live in showing up on your block with signs protesting that sin that you struggle with and making sure you know that God hates what you are doing then telling the TV camera and newspaper, "I'm actually trying to show them that Jesus loves them." No one looks at this as loving, but guess what a lot of Christians that do these things will go back to their church or home and pat themselves on the back for putting in a days work for the cause of Christ and many will even call what they just did evangelism, especially if they handed out a few tracts.

Look, my point is this: North America is the only continent in world that is actually shrinking in terms of the percentage of people who call themselves Christians. I believe this is largely to do with our lack of evangelism through loving personal relationships, especially with those who are marginalized or different from us. I wonder if you would even want a gay person in your church? We must admit that we have utterly failed in showing homosexuals the true love of Jesus. To be clear, I do believe that the Bible is undeniably clear that homosexuality is a sin, but it is also abundantly clear that hate is also a sin. Paul did not hate gay people, he loved them and converted them, which is why he is able to write to the early Christians and remind them that that is what some of them were, "Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor. 6:9-11). Evangelism through politics and political institutions has utterly failed. It has failed to bring people to Christ, while helping to portray Christians as judgmental hate mongers who most would not want to associate themselves with. So, I am calling out myself and you to stop supporting and participating in institutional evangelism and begin to live out and practice biblical evangelism through caring for and loving lost people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. I believe that when we begin to do this the social change that we all yearn for because it honors God will come to pass becasue of changed lives and changed world views through the power of the gospel.