Before his Ascension, Jesus told his followers to go make disciples of all nations. From that instruction comes the belief of many of us who call ourselves Christians that we have an obligation to evangelize others.
But what does that mean? How do we evangelize?
I read a Facebook post from the Christian Left several days ago that prompted several thoughts. The post read:
“Believe exactly as I believe or be tortured in hell for all eternity.” Yeah, that’s a good way to evangelize. How ‘bout, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30
To be sure, I don’t think evangelization by threat is exactly what Jesus had in mind. First, as I’ve said in many different ways in things I’ve said and wrote, I think Jesus was less concerned with a checklist of beliefs than with a total transformation of our lives. And second, I think we evangelize most effectively precisely by allowing people to see the effect of the our living in Christ. As did Jesus, we evangelize best by example, not by force.
Having said that, although the passage of Matthew quoted in the Facebook post is a great favorite of mine, I think it has the potential to mislead here. Jesus invites all; no one is excluded from the invitation. But in this context, those words might be read to suggest that “anything goes.” Be or do whatever you want to. And I’m confident that is not what Jesus had in mind.
Threats are not helpful. But neither is refraining from proclaiming the Gospel and standing against that which is inconsistent with the Gospel. It may not have been the intent of the Facebook post to discourage that, but it is an important enough point to clarify.
We need to do it skillfully. We need to do it with love, not threat. We need to do it by our example as well as (or even more than) our words. But we do need to proclaim the Gospel.