Enemies of Evangelism 5
In this blog series we are examining a number of doctrinal and practical concepts that result in a decrease in witnessing in the life of a believer or church. In today’s post I want to look at another doctrinal or philosophical concept. This particular concept contains much that is good, but at the same time manages to entirely leave out an essential component to evangelism. Thus, it directly attacks soul winning. It is lifestyle evangelism.
Lifestyle evangelism is not a difficult term to explain. Basically, it means that we as Christians are to live such good lives that people around us will notice, and be drawn to Christ by what they see in us.
Using that definition, I agree without hesitation that it is scriptural. We are often commanded in Scripture to live a holy life. We are to love our enemies, rejoice in bad circumstances, retain our integrity in temptation, be content with what we have, etc. etc. This kind of a life is lived as an obedient reflection of God’s purity, but also as a good witness or testimony to the lost world around us. For example, Jesus tells us to Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works. (Matthew 5.16) Paul agrees when he says that we live in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world. (Philippians 2.15) Not to be outdone, Peter instructs us we are to have our conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation. (I Peter 2.12) In fact, Peter goes on to give us a specific example of how a godly life helps to reach someone when he tells wives with lost husbands that this is how their husband may be reached. (I Peter 3.1-2)
“Pastor Brennan, if lifestyle evangelism is so clearly scriptural why are you saying it attacks soul winning.” It does not; it is scriptural. What is unscriptural is the contention that lifestyle evangelism is the only or primary scriptural means of evangelism.
Some people who embrace the concepts of lifestyle evangelism at the same time vigorously oppose what I do in soul winning. They call it “confrontational evangelism”. They say it is ineffective, rude, outdated, hasty, and unscriptural. Instead, what they propose we do is stand in the corner, beam for Jesus, and wait for people to ask us why we are so happy. Their philosophy can be incorporated in one sentence – “Preach the gospel; if necessary use words.”
I am glad they want to emphasize living right and that how we live, says a whole lot to those who know us best. But I am weary of the corresponding implication let alone assertion that using words is not necessary. If you are a wife whose husband has already heard about Jesus a million times for you to mention Him again is just nagging. It will not help. But other than such a close family relationship we are plainly and repeatedly instructed to open our mouth to preach the Gospel.
There are clear scriptural calls for us to be verbal in sharing the Gospel. Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. (Mark 16.15) The word “preach” in the original language means publish or proclaim as in what a king’s herald would do. That cannot be done without your voice. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men. (II Corinthians 5.11) “Persuade” in the original language means to induce one by words to believe.
Not only are there clear calls in Scripture for us to be verbal with the Gospel, there are many examples given us that match these instructions. Jesus confronted the woman at the well (John 4) and the crippled man (John 5) and spoke to them about salvation. In the Early Church period the Bible tells us they went into every house in the city to preach about Jesus Christ. (Acts 5). Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. (Acts 8) Paul wisely combined lifestyle evangelism with confrontational evangelism. And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house. (Acts 20.20)
That last example is key, for if you embrace lifestyle evangelism at the expense of confrontational evangelism you have effectively ended your ability to reach strangers with the Gospel. By definition, they cannot watch your life in any depth. But we find people leading people to Christ all over the New Testament who were strangers when it happened. How did they do it? With words, persuading men, confronting them about their sins and compelling them to come to Christ.
The simple truth is a philosophy of lifestyle evangelism alone provides way too much cover for the spiritually lazy, cowardly, and unprepared. In my experience, we do not need to make it easier for people not to witness. In other words, we do not need to give people a mechanism to escape the convicting sense that they need to witness; they already fight that off entirely too often. Getting God’s people to actively witness is already an uphill struggle. We do not need to make the grade any steeper.
We are called to let our shine, yes, but that alone is not enough. The Early Church prayed grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word. (Acts 4.29) “Boldness” in the original language means freedom in speaking. If I am genuinely living out a life representative of my Saviour I cannot somehow live it more boldly. Boldness in this context explicitly requires verbal confrontation.
Beloved, let your life be an open book. But do not keep your mouth closed. Open up and let it fly. Speak of the horror of sin and wonderful grace of Calvary to the lost world. Those are our instructions.