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Friday, 16 September 2016

The Offence of Christian Evangelism



In Western society, people are increasingly concerned about what is and isn’t offensive. You will hear the words tolerance, openness, inclusivity and diversity in almost every speech. Aspiring political leaders vie to offer a greater demonstration of these values.  But what do these words really mean? Is it even possible to apply them in a society that we expect to actually function? 

A previous post asked the question “What is truth?” Some would say that people with a definite answer to that question are offending others who hold a different view. If I answer that truth is found in the Bible, I am offending those who believe that it is found elsewhere, or those who believe that truth is relative. But for the moment, due to freedom of speech, “offending” someone is still okay.

What about those who, after Brexit, decided to express their suppressed prejudices through racism, xenophobia or other criminal acts? They believed that the vote legitimised their illegal expression. I think we can all agree that these activities are unacceptable and that such people should be punished in accordance with the law. But what about the views that led to the actions--should people be allowed to hold those views in the first place? How can they be prevented from forming and holding convictions that the vast majority find offensive?

The whole debate is really nonsense as it is totally subjective. Who decides what is and isn’t offensive? If free speech is enshrined in law, then we have to accept that sometimes we will not agree with each other and may therefore be offended by someone else’s viewpoint. The alternative is a society where everyone thinks, speaks and acts in an identical manner to avoid offending another person. Individuality, creativity and intelligent thought are dead—slain on the altar of political correctness. Do we really want to end up living in the utopia’s of 1984, Brave New World or Fahrenheit 451

That sets the context for my narrower subject which is the “offence” of Christian evangelism. I thought it would be helpful for those who do not appreciate Christians’ efforts to “convert” them to hear a different perspective. From conversations over the years, I’ve surmised that a lot of atheists, agnostics and people of other faiths believe that Christians evangelise for one or all of the following reasons:

     To prove that they are right and everyone else is wrong
     To gain numbers for the church/their own personal “soul count”
     To earn their way to heaven by gaining favour with God
     To impress others with their good deeds
     Because their church leader/denomination tells them to

It’s no wonder, then, that most people resist these evangelistic efforts and may even get irritated when they see the evangelist coming. The common denominator in this list is “self-focus.” Unfortunately, many of us have fallen into the trap of making evangelism about ourselves and our churches instead of about God.

So what should be the motivator for Christian evangelism? I once read a short story about a Christian man who was staying for three weeks with a friend that he had not seen for a very long time. At the end of the period, when he was about to leave, he was rebuked by a series of questions; 

“Tell me, you are a Christian are you not?” 

 “Yes sir, I am”

 “Does Christianity then dry up all the milk of human kindness and compassion, rendering it obsolete?”

 “Whatever do you mean?”

 “Here you have been staying under my roof for three whole weeks. We have been eating together, conversing and spending much time in each other’s company. And yet not once have you placed your hand on my shoulder and sought to tell me how I might save my own soul from an eternity in hell. That is where you believe I am heading, is it not?”

I cannot recall the source and the exact dialogue between the two men, but that was the gist of their conversation and it has stayed with me through the years. The salient point is obviously that the non-believer was expecting the believer to share his faith with him. He saw the failure as evidence of a lack of love and care for him as a friend. It should be the natural, innate desire of a Christian to share the Good News with those that cross their path.

Society tells Christians to pipe down—that espousing their views is offensive. Christians begin to conform and to ask one another whether they even need to tell others what they believe. Maybe they can have a private faith and keep it all in house. Maybe it is more loving and less offensive in a free society—live and let live!

But the Gospel is an offence and God tells us to share it with others. It is an offence to tell someone that unless they believe that Jesus died on the cross in their place and for their sin, they are going to hell forever. We don’t need to be offensive in the way that we deliver the message. But if it is the message itself that offends, then so be it, if we really believe the truth of our own message. Maybe that is the bigger issue….

Sadly, we may never have the chance to hear those fateful words “But why didn’t you tell me?” Our friends, neighbours and colleagues who either didn’t hear or didn’t believe the Gospel will already be spending an eternity in hell. In heaven, we will not have the chance to empathise with them in their predicament because there is no sadness, mourning or crying. It will be too late.

Today is the day of salvation. Time is short. Let’s remember that this world with its values and ideas about what is and isn’t offensive is passing away. There will be no platform for political correctness on judgement day. Let’s not be hampered by those who seek to silence us for the perceived public good. Let’s steer clear of church politics, soul counting and other similarly damaging practices. Let’s instead reach out to those around us with the right motivation—love for them and concern for their eternal souls.


1 Corinthians 1 vs 18
 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Acts 4 vs 12
 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

Acts 4 vs 19-20
 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”

2 Corinthians 6 vs 2
Behold, now is the favourable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.