Imagine an Old Testament prophet making his case to America on network television. You’d hear an impassioned discussion about abortion and gay marriage. Regarding Jesus? Hmm… not so much. Unfortunately, that sounds identical to the contemporary approach of the American evangelical church. It’s a simple formula; stand at a distance and tell people what they’re doing wrong. Lift your chin; look down, and, above all, keep pointing. Kind of a “Keep Calm and Carry On Judging” methodology.
Don’t kid yourself, the United States isn’t a Christian nation and we should be thankful it’s not. Read a little history and see what happened to the Faith when the Roman Emperor Constantine required that citizens become Christians. Christianity became lazy, dogmatic and status quo. We’re still recovering. Read Hebrews 11 and decide the country to which you belong. Here’s a hint… it’s not the U.S.
There is no thought quite as absurd as thinking we need to defend God’s moral “correctness.” Immorality is a symptom of our need for the Gospel, but focusing on sin is a tunnel-vision, Old Testament declaration. Morality is not the core of the Gospel; neither should it be a rallying point substituted for presenting Christ to the world. Conviction rarely comes by reciting “Thou shalt not’s.”
I’ve had a small measure of success in winning souls for the Kingdom in face to face relationships, (it’s not fair for a pastor to count altar calls as evangelism). Perhaps my experience is unusual, but I’ve never, ever had to define sin for a person. Those whom the Father is drawing, (John 6:44), are already painfully aware of where they fall short. Their desperate need is a gentle and patient demonstration of the mercy and grace of Christ Jesus.
On the other hand, I’ve had experiences where I argued the claims of the Gospel from a moral perspective. Now, I argue very well, but that’s a curse, not a gift. I’ve heard individuals concede my positions but reject Christ. It’s like a surgeon completing a procedure flawlessly, but the patient dies. Where is the victory in that? To anyone with a heart for evangelism, it’s a crushing defeat. It is heart-wrenching to win an argument but lose a soul. Permit me to illustrate.
When I was a young high school teacher, I was well known for sharing my faith openly and as many would say, aggressively. During one particular year, two of my fellow teachers prayed for salvation, and as I sometimes joke, three began attending church in self-defense. That same year, one young man taught me an irreplaceable lesson; we’ll call him “Steve.” Steve was not one of my students, but we knew each other because we were often found on opposite sides of adolescent mayhem. He was a troublemaker. We co-existed with an odd “professional courtesy” toward each other. Steve and I spoke by name in the hallways, though it was often with the tight-lipped, sideways glance of two Old West gunslingers.
Typically, I was assigned hall duty during lunch. As I stood at my post, it was not unusual for a particularly lonely, troubled or curious student to approach me and strike up a conversation. The discussions sometimes spanned days or occasionally, weeks. It was no surprise when Steve began stopping by. Over the course of several weeks, our talks became increasingly intense. There was more depth to Steve than I had imagined. We fell into a habit of debate and I argued the claims of the Gospel stalwartly. His questions were sound and his rebuttals were reasonable. In my immaturity, I responded relentlessly. In retrospect, Steve didn’t need my arguments. He needed to stand in the presence of the grace and peace of Christ.
One day he was clearly frustrated. “You’re right,” He conceded. “Right about what?” I asked. “You’re right about Jesus,” he answered. I turned and looked him square in the face, “So you’d like to become a Christian?” He only replied, “No,” and walked away.
I had won an argument but possibly lost a soul. Steve and I never talked in-depth again. I like to think I’ve learned many valuable lessons in over three decades of walking with God, but this… this stays with me the most. People cannot be argued, guilted or moralized into the Kingdom of God. People come into the Kingdom of God because they receive a glimpse of the grace of Jesus. That’s my job. Conviction is the job of the Holy Spirit.
Step back for a moment and assess the message of today’s American evangelical church. What comes to mind? Topics, merely moral topics… Abortion, Gay marriage, gun control, Obama care… (How the latter two made it into the pulpit is a mystery to me). Now consider that state of evangelism. Consider evangelism for the church as a whole and consider it for yourself as a commissioned minister of the Gospel. We’re drawing plenty of lines in the sand of morality, but let’s be honest, in terms of changed lives… “Crickets.” We make attendees, not disciples. There’s not much Good News going out, is there? Even if we win the moral arguments, we are losing the souls.
Grace is what we need. Let those who need to reassure their glorious self-righteousness have their arguments of morality. Let those with God’s heart for a lost world demonstrate the grace of Jesus Christ.
But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, in order that I may finish my course, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:24).