This post is principally aimed at those Christians who realise the importance of sharing their faith but equally I am happy if those not of the faith reflect on what I say as it may help you understand some of the challenges that face those serious about sharing their faith.
The desire to share one’s faith with outsiders is one of many things that we (Christians) have in common with our Muslim friends. While we have the “Great Commission”, where we are commanded to go out and make disciples of all nations, unlike with Islam there is little it seems that encourages a similar urgency within Judaism. But the question is begged still and, going back to my early life, there have been numerous and sometimes contradictory rather than complementary discussions on whys and wherefores of evangelism. I recall being exercised on the matter when young and for a period saw it as my job to go around converting people to Christianity.
To some extent I still am, but hopefully wisdom has come more to the fore. I no longer go around handing out tracts to and trying to convert all and sundry, for example. Instead I try to find “divine opportunities” to share my faith, conscious that I don’t always avail myself of these as I ought. As a community activist, often working among people who don’t share my faith, I am mindful of and try to respect people’s sensitivities realising that, for some, any hint of proselytizing is frowned upon. At the same time, I recall something that challenged me as a youth – if I had a cure for cancer, would I keep it to myself? While I have learned to respect peoples’ rights not to be preached at, I am also concerned for their spiritual state. As for the message I would like to share when I can, check out here.
Knowing when to speak and what to say is a big question. I am often reminded of the saying of St. Francis that seems to encapsulate the right approach: “Preach the Gospel and if necessary use words.” The challenge is to be a living example of what it is we would want people to know, all too aware they can be put of by inappropriate use of words and even more so by an inconsistent life. There are also those who make it a point NOT to share their faith, which if I read my Bible aright is NOT what we are commanded to do. Trying to maintain that fine balance between living the good life and sharing our faith is a fine one and must not be ignored. There is a world to win for Christ, the Saviour of the world, humankind’s only hope.
This brings me to an article titled “Sorry Archbishop Justin, that’s just plain wrong”. It begins: “The Archbishop of Canterbury has a thankless task, trying to lead what is pretty much an unleadable church… Justin Welby, who is clearly a godly man, has tried his very best and has said many good and excellent things, such as the importance of prayer, care for persecuted Christians and more. He always talks about Jesus which is great to hear. His recent bible study on FB was very good as was his campaign “Thy Kingdom come”. He has also made one of his three priorities evangelism, though again it begs the question “What exactly is the gospel we are seeking to spread?” But his latest contribution … is, I respectfully believe, plain wrong. Yes, he is absolutely right that we should certainly listen to and love the people we are sharing our faith with. The Lord Jesus did that – see the Samaritan woman for a famous example. But the idea that we ONLY respond when asked is I suggest unbiblical”.
The article concludes: “So dear Christian friends be bold and confident in sharing our faith, yes the Archbishop is absolutely right that we must listen and love our friends and family and share our faith in a respectful way but we must not wait to be asked. We have been entrusted with the responsibility of sharing the words of eternal life. Lets get on with it, in a loving and thoughtful way certainly but also boldly and confidently. By nature we cant do that, which is why above all we need to pray for boldness.” Checking out the article, the author referred to, titled: “Don’t speak about your faith unless you’re asked to says Archbishop of Canterbury”, the purported argument attributed to the Archbishop begins: “Christians should not talk to people about their faith unless they are actively invited to do so … enthusiastic members of his flock should not to be afraid to talk about Christianity in a more secular society but advised them to listen to others before saying anything and, crucially, to wait until they are asked … Asked where he drew the line between evangelism and proselytism. He said: “I draw the line in terms of respect for the other; in starting by listening before you speak; in terms of love that is unconditional and not conditional to one iota, to one single element on how the person responds to your own declaration of faith; and of not speaking about faith unless you are asked.”
It is NOT my intention here to come down on the side of either the Archbishop or his critic, especially without knowing all the facts, but recognizing when there is a time to speak and a time not to speak is something according to the good book we must do. It also has wider implications. I well recall the first major community project in which I was involved sought to link a voluntary group dominated by keen Christians and the local Council. The fact the project is still going strong today is to the credit of these two groups, which managed to find a way to work together. I well recall that the biggest fear of the Council was that Christians might seek to proselytize (which never happened as it turned out). Sadly, in my view, the project like many that have been started by well meaning Christians were to ditch some of its Christian ethos in order to accommodate those who might object to this and in order to secure funding. It is often the case that projects doing good in the community that seek to maintain its Christian ethos lose out on funding opportunities when they do so. It is why the question in the title is so important.
Let make it clear, as far as I am concerned, in the great majority of cases, community projects should exist in order to serve those of all faiths and none, and nowhere should a project that chooses to adopt a Christian ethos try to impose their beliefs on the people they seek to serve. Neither should people who start a project have to ditch their Christian ethos, or not speak when the time is right, because they have been pressurized to do so. For there is a case for speaking about faith if it is appropriate to do so. This is not in order to gain converts to the cause but to recognize there is an important spiritual dimension. I often use the example of helping people who have lost their way somehow in life. While it is right and proper to show compassion and provide help, it is often better to get to the bottom of why people are the way they are and help bring about a change in heart, because only then will there be an enduring solution rather than a temporary fix that will be undone. When it comes to sharing faith, it is not my place to judge people who do when they shouldn’t or don’t when they should. Yet as it is written “to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven … a time to keep silence, and a time to speak” Ecclesiastes 3:1,7.