One of the things we’ve done in the past on this podcast is to look at surveys and their results. I think this is really helpful. Often we have our own intuitions about what we think culture is like and what we think the majority position is like and what we think different nuances are like. Often our intuitions are very wrong or they’re very skewed by the bubble we often live in and we don’t know we live in bubbles. Looking at nationwide surveys, or at least large surveys can be really helpful.
The Barna Group has done a study recently of Christians. They’ve had several different questions and maybe we’ll talk about them over the coming weeks. But there’s one I want to talk about today. I do want to preface this by saying, we’re going to talk about millennials and their beliefs and their views, but I don’t just want to hop on that train, that always comes down on and condemns millennials. That’s not my intent and I actually think I am one. I don’t remember the exact definitions, but I might fall in that category.
I think it’s interesting because there is one interesting part of this survey, at the least, that stands out about millennials. Of the Christians that Barna surveyed, 96% of millennials said that part of my faith means being a witness about Jesus. That’s awesome. That’s a great statistic. Almost a 100% of Christians millennials who were surveyed said that part of their faith means witnessing about Jesus. Okay. Great.
We start to think there’s a disconnect when we get to a different question that was asked because 47% of those millennial Christians think it is wrong to share one’s beliefs with someone of a different faith in hope that they will one day share that same faith. 47% of the same group that said part of my faith means being a witness about Jesus also thinks that it’s wrong to share your faith, your beliefs with the intent of converting someone to that faith, if those people have a different faith tradition or conviction.
How do these go together? Because everyone actually has a world view. Everyone has a set of religious convictions. We might not call them a faith, like I wouldn’t call Atheism a faith, but in some ways, it is. Right? It contains a belief about what’s wrong with the world and why we are here and where we came from and what’s going to make the world right. Of course, there are many other types of religions and faiths out there. In fact, the majority of people in the world are religious. If we just consider the question from that angle, 96% of millennials in this survey, think that part of their faith means being a witness about Jesus, but it seems like almost half of them think it’s wrong to actually try and convert someone. Why would we witness, if we don’t want to convert someone? The question we also have to ask is, can a Biblically faithful witness actually be done without the intent of converting someone?
One of the other stats that’s interesting before we dive into that first one is 40% of the millennials Christians surveyed think that if someone disagrees with you, it means they are judging you. We’ve talked about judging in the past, but we may hit that in future weeks.
Let’s talk about witnessing and what does the Bible say about witnessing? If we’re going to say that witnessing is an important part of our faith and hopefully we’re witnessing to a Biblical faith, we’re pointing to, we’re testifying to a Biblical faith. So let’s see what the Bible has to say about witnessing and conversion.
At the beginning of John’s gospel in verse 6 of chapter 1. It says, “A man came, sent from God, who’s name was John. He came as a witness to testify about the light, so that everyone might believe through him.” I love this verse. A man came from Heaven, his name was John. He came as a witness to testify about the light. It’s just so simple. Isn’t this interesting, John came as a witness to witness. The underlying word is basically the same. He came as a testifier to testify about the light, who is Jesus. John has just said that Jesus is the preeminent, pre-incarnate word who has always existed. He is the light that gives life to mankind and he’s also said that men hate the light. They like the darkness. John’s intent in being a witness is so that people will believe. Who is John initially witnessing to? To the Jews, people who hadn’t established faith conviction and tradition. He was actually trying to convert people so that they one day would share his faith in the Messiah, in the actual Messiah. Testifying about Jesus.
At the beginning of John, we see that there is a person, he was a prophet and he comes to testify about Jesus, such that people will believe through him. He wants to change their religious convictions. That doesn’t fit with what it seems like 47% of millennials believe. Let’s consider Jesus. Some of the last words of Jesus, at his accession in Matthew 28. He says that, “All authority in Heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you and remember I am with you always to the end of the age.” These are really important words. You can’t talk about evangelism it seems like, without talking about these words.
Evangelism is not just simply telling what you believe in a factual way. The goal is to convert. I mean, that’s what Jesus is talking about here, right. Go, he’s saying go. It seems like the majority of millennials surveyed are good with the going, and then make disciples. Well then we have a hitch, right.
What we want to do in this passage and in evangelism is take someone who is a disciple of another religion; they are following someone else, following something else, some other ideology or religious system and we want them to, instead, become a disciple of Jesus. We want to swap one thing for another. Stop following that, start following this. Baptize them, have them publicly identify with this internal change. You don’t just want them to have a change of external to one external, or a change of one internal to one internal. No. You want a change of the complete person and their internal beliefs and their external practices to a new set of internal beliefs and a new set of external practices. That’s what is being talked about here by Jesus in Matthew 28. I find it hard to square this, with what exactly 47% of the people in the study and the survey said. I don’t know how you can say that it’s wrong to try and convert someone from one belief to another when Jesus says, go and convert people, go and make disciples. Take them from one thing to another.
What about Acts? We’ve looked at the precursor to Jesus’s ministry with John saying that he came to testify about the light so that people would believe in him. In other words, change their beliefs. We’ve seen Jesus say that we all have this mandate, which he initially gave to his disciples, but I think is a mandate for every single believer to go and make disciples. That is what we’re about.
As John Piper as said, “Missions exist because worship does not.” Our goal in bringing people to be disciples of God is that they will worship him. That’s a very Biblical Jesus centered goal.
Let’s look at Acts 2. Jesus has ascended and the church is kind of getting started and Peter is preaching and he says that, “This Jesus, God has raised up after his crucifixion. We were all witnesses.” There’s that word, that seems like we’re all good with. Then he says, “‘Therefore let all the house of Israel know beyond a doubt that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.’ When they heard this, they were acutely distressed and said to Peter and the rest of the Apostles, ‘What should we do brothers?’ Peter said, ‘Repent and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far away, as many as the Lord will call to himself.’”
Isn’t that interesting? Well, why is Peter preaching, just to share information, to witness without the intent of conversion? No! It seems like they understand. ‘Okay, we need to do something, we’ve heard what you’re saying, we’re convicted here.’ Right, They’re acutely distressed. They understood the ramification of what Peter has said and they say, ‘What should we do?’ He doesn’t say, well, I don’t want to convert you. It would be wrong for me to try and change your religious convictions. No. He says, Repent. That’s a word that means change your mind, change your beliefs, literally. Change your faith convictions. Change what you are trusting in. Change what you believe about God and yourself. Not just intellectually, but obviously that should lead to a change of action and not just the action of being baptized, as we see in this passage, but a faith that is not marked by action, is not a saving faith. James and the rest of the New Testament testifies to that point.
My point here is, once again, and the examples are too many for us to cover in this podcast. When witnessing is talked about, there is a conversion that is at the other end of that. The Bible doesn’t know about witnessing without trying to effect change. It doesn’t know about not trying to make converts. Why would you tell your story if you weren’t trying to make a convert. The fact of the matter is, that Peter is saying, Repent. Change your mind. Change your faith convictions.
Let’s just consider and try to hypothetically play this out. If Peter believed that an important part of his faith meant being a witness about Jesus, agreeing with 96% in the survey. But let’s just say, he agreed also with the 47%, that it’s wrong to try and change someone’s beliefs such that they would align with yours. Well he would have perhaps said, well you crucified this Jesus, but he’s not going to try and drive it home too hard. He doesn’t want to convict them too much, perhaps, because then they might change their mind, so he needs to present it in some sort of factual way and appealing sort of way that convicts someone to action. He didn’t do that, right. But then when they ask him, “What should we do?’ Well if he’s not trying to change someone’s mind, why does he tell them to change their mind?
I don’t want to harp on that point too much, but these ideas that seem like they’re becoming more popular today, with a growing number of people and not just millennials, but perhaps most acutely millennials, they don’t fit with scripture, the same Jesus who died that we should witness about is the same Jesus who said to go and change people’s minds and make disciples.
A few things come to mind when I hear of people who are going to witness, but they don’t actually want to change someone’s faith convictions. The first is, maybe they have bought the lie that witnessing is what we do with our actions, not our words. Right. It’s not actually easy to change someone’s mind and faith if all you’re doing is good actions. There is no mind to be changed about Jesus, you haven’t told them about Jesus. You haven’t talked about their religion, so how would you be talking them out of their religion, if such a thing even were possible. I’m guessing and this is a guess, this is just Brian Seagraves here, postulating that perhaps what is going on here is that people are thinking, witnessing is what I do with my actions, and words aren’t necessary. That kind of quote that often gets attributed to St.Francis of Assisi, ‘Share the gospel at all times and use words when necessary,’ is very similar to saying, feed the poor at all times, and use food when necessary. Words are always necessary. You can’t share the gospel without words.
This is Romans 10 right. “How are people to hear if no one goes and tells them? How are they to believe, if they’re not told? How are people to go if they aren’t sent? How beautiful are the feet of those that bring the good news?” Good news is something you tell. It’s not something you do with acts of kindness. That we should do acts of kindness, our manner should commend our message, but that assumes we have a message.
The first thing, like I said, that comes the mind is, are we actually sharing with our words? If this is the set of beliefs we hold. Maybe not. The other thing is, do you really believe it’s true? If you actually believe the gospel, how would it be wrong to try and convert someone else? Actually, the wrong thing would be to not convert someone else. Right. If you think Heaven and hell hang in the balance, that what someone believes about God is the most important thing in the world and if they believe or don’t believe the gospel that eternity, not just this life, hangs in the balance. Why would you not tell them? How could you not tell them?
We all don’t share the gospel as much as we should, but here’s the thing. How could you think it was wrong to tell them? That’s the bigger question. In action it is it’s own problem, it’s its own selfishness and we’ll talk about that in a minute. Actually, holding the belief that it’s wrong to try and change someone’s conviction. I can’t understand that in light of scripture. If you believe that people are going to hell because of their sin and that the God of the Universe as made a way for forgiveness and reconciliation with him and that more than that, the prime purpose for Evangelism is so people will come to worship God, why would you not try to get people to come and worship God? I don’t understand that.
Like, I said, first thing, are we just trying to show it with our actions? Second thing, do we really believe it’s true? If we do believe it’s true and we’re not willing to try and change someone’s mind, how is that not a form of selfishness? I do think there’s a selfishness in believing you should change people’s minds, you should try to convert them and not doing it. But there’s a greater selfishness in not doing it and thinking you shouldn’t do it. At the end of it and this is just me guessing once again, these are just my ideas. Trying to figure out how this works. I can’t avoid the idea that these beliefs only come from people who have been too discipled by their culture and not discipled by the word of God.
All throughout the New Testament, all throughout the Old Testament, witnessing is done with the intent of conversion. That is the prime goal of the Christian life is to worship God and to get others to worship God. If that’s the case, then these are non Biblical ideas, they are secular ideas … they are actually, I would actually say evil ideas. The idea that we should not convert people is an evil idea. I’m not saying that evil people hold these ideas only, that’s not my point. I’m simply saying, it is a non-Biblical idea, it is a philosophy that we should take captive with the knowledge of Christ and that we should be prepared to address and tear down, lovingly from the scriptures.
We have to be careful that culture and it’s politically correct ideas are not influencing how we believe and understand the gospel. There is a very popular idea out there today, in secular culture, that all religions are equally valid. None is better than another and you shouldn’t proselytize. You shouldn’t make converts. This is actually the law in many countries. The United States is somewhat unique in the world in being in the minority of countries that allow proselytizing. Where we can actually try to change someone’s faith convictions. This is not the case in India. This is not the case in China. This is actually not the case in some other first world countries too.
When I hear people saying, we shouldn’t make converts, we shouldn’t try and change people’s minds. I start to think they’ve been influenced more by the culture, on this point, than by scripture. That’s why I started with scripture. Because if you want to say that witnessing is an important part of your faith, well let’s see what the Bible says about that and what actual faith are we witnessing to, if we are not witnessing to a faith that tries to convert people. That actually says that their eternal destiny is worth more than how I am viewed and the persecution that I may encounter and the condemnation I may experience. If we’re not talking about what Jesus did on the cross, for sinners, to convert us, so that we could be changed by the Holy Spirit, I don’t know what we would be witnessing to. But it’s certainly not important enough to tell other people about it if it’s not that message.