A Better Way to Stand Out
While there are few direct commands to evangelize in the new testament, there is plenty of directing to live a christian life. There is plenty of teaching about loving one another and practicing all of the virtues, while at the same time warnings for believers not to fall into sin. There is a clear call to live differently than the world does. It has been said, “be in the world but not of it” (though not directly found in the bible), however the exact way that works is not spelled out, and therefore people have different ideas on what it looks like. For some it means having our own music, books, organizations, etc. and being offended at everything “secular”. People will know we are not of the world by the t-shirts we wear and the bumper stickers on our car. We need to make sure to let everyone know that their lives and lifestyles are wrong (while curiously overlooking our own). I will agree with the person who said this is more like “being of the world but not in it”.
I believe that the ways in which we differentiate ourselves as Christians from the rest of the world is not by isolating ourselves nor removing ourselves from the culture and society around us. I believe the way that we will be a light to the world is by embodying the values of Christ. I think this has become clouded for a couple of reasons. First of all, there are certainly some people who are called and gifted to evangelize, which they should by all means do. I think that a mistake has been made at times by them in that they, like all of us, can believe that everyone should be like themselves. Therefore they have promoted the idea that we should all be directly engaged in “aggressive” evangelism.
The second reason I think this may have lost some favor is that it is a more subtle way of showing our difference, and also a more difficult one. After all, how hard is it to put on a t-shirt as compared to being patient with your coworker day after day? The t-shirt is an immediate sign of difference, yet what difference is being communicated? I’d argue that it merely demonstrates that the wearer holds some different set of beliefs, just as many other groups of people have their different beliefs. But the t-shirt wearing believer likely feels good that he/she is being a witness—it something that’s easy to point to as the way in which he/she is showing their faith. And in our “fast food” society, it’s a way which the person can feel that he is communicating christianity to all of the people he/she will encounter during a day with whom they are unacquainted.
It’s true that simply living our lives being real, honest and trying to follow the path of Christ may not be as readily apparent a difference, at least on an individual basis. I may know people, work with people, or attend school with people for long periods of time without getting into a situation which would highlight the differences. After all, there are as many or more ways in which we’re alike with those outside of the faith as there are ways in which we’re different. Yes, there are certainly some important differences, but we are all human, and we all share many of the same desires. This is why I feel that a model of evangelism which focuses solely on the individual is weak. The lack of easily apparent differences prompts impatience which leads to the temptation to create more apparent differences. Unbelievers aren’t stupid however, and will see through these tactics. These “false differences” serve to further alienate those outside of faith rather than entice them to discover more about it, since these differences show people acting less normal, rather than more acting as more fully human.
Some people will no doubt argue, “but tracts, saying (fill-in the blank), wearing this or that, etc. is effective; this person became a christian because of that.” The first lesson to learn in evangelism is that it’s all God’s work in people’s lives. He may choose to work though whatever we do, but because of this we can’t use that as an argument for whatever we have done (or seen done) being the right or best way to evangelize. Some people have decided to follow Christ after an event in their live which would seem on the outside to have been a completely “secular” experience. It may sound like this contradicts the whole point of my paper. If it is God’s work, then does it matter what we do? Yes! While it is God who does the work, he wants us to be wise and also to live the life that he has called us to live, so that he can work through us.
While one individual Christian living out a life devoted to Christ may not readily stick out, I believe that a whole group of people living this way would. Isn’t written, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)? Are we known for our love for one another? Elsewhere it is written, “No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.” (Acts 5:13-14). People were afraid to join them because they recognized how different they were. They understood that something unusual was happening—indeed something super natural. Yet it was a way in which they highly respected, and that was reason for people to continue to join them. In addition, “There were no needy persons among them.” (Acts 4:34). I don’t believe that can be said today.