Saturday, September 04, 2004
prepared to give an answer
Last year, not long after my conversion, I spent a great deal of time trying to convince my friends and family of the 'unquestionable truth' behind my new evangelical faith. Despite the fact that I was a mere infant in Christ, I still thought that I could give preach to others. I would spout out stuff in history class, down the phone, or wherever else really. I think I had good intentions, but I had missed some vital points about witnessing.
The first is something summed up by a famous saying of St Francis of Assisi: 'Preach the gospel. Use words if necessary.' Actions speak louder than words they say, and a tongue which can say 'Lord, Lord' does not guarantee a pure heart to go with it. Long sermonising and debating is neither effective nor the way that Jesus himself used. His most famous speech, the Sermon on the Mount, would've taken less than five minutes to deliver.
The second point is illustrated by words of Christ commonly referred to as 'The Great Commission'. He instructs the apostles in Matthew 28:19 'Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit'. This is the usual justification for all Christian missionary activity, but as one writer has pointed out, Jesus says 'disciples' not 'converts'. It is all very well to chuck out gospel tracts and get people saying the sinner's prayer, but how far does that make disciples? Perhaps in all the zeal of missionary activity, Christians can forget Jesus' words to the Pharisees: 'Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are'. Clearly getting people to change the label they stick to themselves is not the key.
However, the most important point, in my view is Jesus' advice to the apostles after his resurrection. He tells them: 'Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about'. This 'gift' is of course the Holy Spirit which arrives at Pentecost. After they have received this gift, they are ready to begin their preaching. However, so many of us, self very much included, have made the mistake of trying to stand on our religious soap boxes before God has prepared us. Considering that Jesus also said that any public speaking we do will actually be the Spirit of the Father speaking through us, not waiting in Jerusalem seems like a pretty stupid thing to do! Like a newsreader deciding not to look at his autocue.
Of course, with regards witnessing, I no longer feel a burning desire to run around the world and flaunt my faith over the faith of others. I have no wish to convert anyone from another religion to Christianity, but would rather experience witnessing from both sides, for the purpose of understanding rather than converting. However, there comes a point when people ask us about our faith, and as St Peter advises, we must be 'prepared to give an answer'. Yesterday, I was surprised to have an engaging spiritual conversation with a very unlikely person. But I will save the rest of the story for tomorrow.
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