Ours is a time of compromise and accommodation. We see it often as we take our message to people who are pleased that you should have your beliefs as long as you leave them alone with theirs. We witnessitin the attempts of political and social movers and shakers to find a middle ground, on which all faiths can stand and create a global religion to serve our global society. We hear it in the cries of protest that go up at our claim to exclusivity for the Christian faith. And our faith is uncompromising. Take the words of Jesus who declared:
I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Jn.14:6)
There is nothing remotely compromising about the message of the cross.
Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to a cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him… God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear… Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ…. Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call. (Acts 2:22-39)
With our “Great Commission” clearly spelled out, Go and make disciples of all nations (Matt.28:19-20), we cannot, we dare not compromise.
Winning Friends and Influencing Sheep
Dale Carnegie, the author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, astutely observed that “If you want to make an enemy, tell a man he is wrong”. But if we are going to that man with the Christian message, the message of Acts 2, how can we possibly avoid the risk of making an enemy? When dealing with the errors we encounter, and applying the corrective of Scripture, how can we make a friend and still “tell a man he is wrong”?
Isaiah, in describing the work of the cross and the desperate needs of a rebellious world, wrote:
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way
And this describes perfectly the people to whom we are to take this uncompromising Christian message. All are following a way that seems right to them, their own way. But Isaiah goes on to describe God’s response to this straying world:
And the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)
In Matthew’s gospel we read these words of Jesus:
What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander. (Matt.18:12-13)
The apostle Peter’s familiar instruction to believers helps us here as he encourages us:
In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect (1Peter 3:15).
Surely the answer to our question, “how can we make a friend and still “tell a man he is wrong”?” is, in telling him he is wrong, we should also show him he is valued.
Christ in your Heart – and in your Witnessing
Sometimes, in our evangelistic efforts, we can lay such great store on correcting people that we can forget to value them. It is as though the person we are talking to has no value until they come around to our way of thinking. It is well to remember that God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Ro.5:8). God’s response to our sinfulness and rebellion is a demonstration of love. Setting apart Christ in your heart means more than telling the woman at the well that she is wrong in her beliefs and lifestyle. It means demonstrating that she is valued by speaking to her with gentleness and respect.
In “witnessing to the cults” it is very easy to become combative when we mean to be challenging, condemnatory when we should be caring, judgmental when we should be gentle and respectful. As we approach our evangelism perhaps it would help to bear in mind the following:
Apologetics isn’t there to make us look clever, but to make the message clear and more convincing. Remember that Jesus could have commanded angelic legions and looked mighty and triumphant if that had been God’s purpose (Matt.26:52-54). How often have I heard tales of Christians sending off a Jehovah’s Witness “with their tail between their legs”, the argument won but the Witness lost? As we marshal our legion of arguments we must ask whether we are serving the purpose of God in winning souls or serving ourselves in gaining a reputation for winning arguments. Are we sharing the good news that Christ died for sinners, the just for the unjust, or are we breaking the bad news that our visitor is in a cult and doomed unless they get out? There is a world of difference.
Apologetics isn’t there primarily to pull down the Mormon Church or the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society but to win the Mormon or Witness at your door. Long after Jesus had returned to glory both the temple and the establishment that crucified him still stood – for a time. But already, during his ministry and following Pentecost, people were responding to the call to repent and be baptised. Individuals were being saved into the kingdom even as the kingdom of Satan seemed indestructible.
Apologetics is an essential tool in our armoury, but we should remember that “we do not struggle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm” (Eph.6:12).
This is particularly difficult for those who have been victims of deception but it is well to remember that the Mormon at your door is not the Mormon Church, the Witness is not the WTBTS. You are not tearing down strongholds but building a bridge. If we have put on Christ then, though we may burn with anger at the injustice and deception perpetrated by these organisations, we will look with love and compassion on those who are deceived just as we once were. Ask yourself, am I getting back at the organisation that hurt me, or am I valuing the person in front of me by sharing the truth with gentleness and respect?
Apologetics isn’t enough and no one can be reasoned into becoming a Christian. Apologetics can, however, remove obstacles to faith by showing that the Christian faith is not irrational. We can, with God’s help, “convince” people of so much, but more important than being convinced is being convicted. Conviction of sin is something brought by the Holy Spirit. That is why we need to pray for those to whom we witness. If we do not value them we will be less inclined to pray for them. If we value them we will speak the truth with gentleness and respect and pray that they may come to know him even as we have. Because they, like sheep, have gone astray, and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of them all – if someone would but tell them the truth, in love.