July 5, 2012

Walking The Razor's Edge

I suspect when dealing with evangelism and conversion of non-believers there will always be a tension between wanting to meet people “where they are” and getting them “where they need to be”. It is like splitting or cutting the person from the world and getting them to cling to Christ. If we diluted and cut the Gospel too much it is no longer the Gospel. Conversely, if we bludgeon people over the head they will only run in the other direction. I suppose it is a balance. This being said, as much as I would like to agree with the practicality or pragmatism of meeting non-believers where they are to win them to the Faith, to me this is no better than or more effective than smashing them over the head (like a rolling pin) with what they need to hear only to have them reject it.

I fear it’s just not plausible to use either methodology without the profound work of the Holy Spirit. We must try to reach people by using applications and ideas that the people we are teaching and preaching to will understand but at the same time we must indeed preach a pure unadulterated Gospel as Paul instructed Timothy to do in 2 Tim 4:

“Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage —with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound  doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths

In reality, neither tactic works well without the Holy Spirit involved. The best laid plans of mice and men all come to not if the Spirit is absent from the picture. We have a much better chance of the Spirit being present when the word is also present.

Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. Romans 8:5 

This is a tightrope act at times for us as evangelizing Christians. We balance on the edge of a razor. Just as they did in the early church with pagans, so we still do now. At some point we trip over the line and go too far away from the Gospel to win the world and in so doing…we become the world and cease being the Church. We cut the ties that bind with Jesus instead of cutting the ties that bind with the world. We saw this in the mass conversions of the barbarians of the Middle Ages when the Church tried to convert huge swathes of pagan barbarians with less than stellar results. They added numbers to their ranks but they could barely be called converted and saved Christians. It was like putting the Popes hat on a cursing pirate and calling the pirate the Pope. They only thing that happened is that the barbarian's  pagan beliefs dramaticaly changed the way in which the Church "did church". The pagans influences changed church, the church didn't change the pagan barbarians. These pagan influences affect us to this day. We see the hero worship of the barbarians turned to veneration of the saints and we saw the veneration or Mary. We see pagan symbols galore enter the church. 

"The use of temples, and these dedicated to particular saints, and ornamented on occasions with branches of trees; incense, lamps, and candles; votive offerings on recovery from illness; holy water; asylums; holy days and seasons, use of calendars, processions, blessings on the fields, sacerdotal vestments, the tonsure, the ring in marriage, turning to the east, images at a later date, perhaps the ecclesiastical chant, and the Kyrie Eleison, are all of pagan origin, and sanctified by their adoption into the Church." ~John Henry Newman-A Cardinal by Pope Leo III (Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine 1878, p351-353)

We see the same sort of prostitution creeping into the Church today. We see it more in a subtle and subdued form called Postmodernism. Instead of some secret truth that only a few are are on to, we now see that everyone has an equal claim to a truth. We now include everyone's ideas and no one is excluded. Postmodernism says that all people's views are equally valid. It is a culture and mentality of inclusiveness. This  is surprisingly similar to the inclusion of pagan thought in the Church long ago. Strangely, we are even beginning to see a reintroduction of old Jewish practices of the Old Testament that were only relevant to Israel and the old covenant that have been long fulfilled and abrogated in Christ.  To practice ceremonial rituals only meaningful to Israel previous to Christ coming incarnate amounts to nothing more than a paganizing of Christianity as Judaism is now essentially a defunct or extinct religion superseded by none other than Jesus himself. Neither Judaism nor any its practices in any form will provide salvation, only Jesus Christ will through the Gospel.

Conversely, if we do not deliver with compassion in a way people will understand we lose them anyway, there is indeed a human element here for people in terms of approachability. But if we give the unbelieving world what they want to try and win them to the faith we often times give them so much of what they want, that when we do try to teach the truth they reject it for myths pf their own making or ones they brought with them. In the case of the early church the myths and legends were of the barbarian hordes that found their sources in nature religions (Druids, Wicca, etc.), today it is a pluralistic ecumenical syncretism or unbiblical Universalism. Either way, it’s not beneficial to the unbeliever or the Church. Either the Church waters down the message of the Gospel until it is unrecognizable or we paganize and prostitute God's church to win one or two converts (Jeremiah 3). As many in our churches can already attest to, many people that we thought we won to the faith through acclimating the Church to the culture usually end up leaving having never been part of the Body to begin with and the Church just ends up looking like a one-night stand

When push comes to shove there is only one thing to do. My theory has always been to Preach the Gospel as plainly and as honestly as possible and use as much Scripture as I can to back up the point. Unfortunately, this often gets me accused of not delivering in love due to the Gospel's unequivocal and authoritative nature. After explaining the Gospel I can only let the chips fall where they will. Why? Because my job is to give people the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Spirit then convicts people and brings them to Salvation.

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