Q&R with Greg Albrecht – “Are Christians commanded to *win souls*?”
I am continually told that Christians are commanded and obligated to spread God’s word to the corners of the earth and lead people to salvation through personal witnessing. Some actually teach that personal witnessing is the defining mark of a Christian. Is personal witnessing a commanded part of being a Christian? Soul-winning advocates even preach we are in a way responsible for friends/family burning in hell if we don’t witness, a sobering thought.
There is a great debate on the topic you raise. Many evangelical Christians believe (evidenced by their very name) that one of the primary duties of Christians is to personally evangelize. Aspects of this belief can be shown to be biblical, in terms of sharing our faith with others. Of course, there are many ways to proclaim the gospel and share our faith that do not involve personal witnessing. I do not believe the absolute necessity of personal witnessing and “sharing our testimony” as a regular and necessary practice of our day-to-day lives can be shown from the Bible.
There are many Christians who do not feel equipped, gifted or talented enough to talk to strangers about Jesus, as they sit next to them on a bus, plane or bus stop. Allowing for the fact that we are all reluctant to do something that is uncomfortable, but perhaps, nevertheless something we ought to do—I still believe, based upon the gospel of Jesus Christ, that not every Christian needs to engage in this kind of personal, direct, and even, as some call it, confrontational evangelism. Trouble often arises when those who believe fervently in such a practice hear someone like me say that it is not a priority. To add more fuel to that fire, I believe this practice/expectation is yet another way that religion can worm its way into authentic Christianity.
I believe that if I happen to become involved in a conversation about God while I am on an airplane, and if both the other person and I are interested and welcome such a conversation, that such a conversation is a good thing. But if either of us are tired, or if we would prefer to read, or even if we want to watch the in-flight movie, God will still be happy with us! I don’t presume to think that if I don’t have a discussion with a person in row 33, seat F, that they may be lost for eternity. I don’t presume that I am the only way that God might reach that person—or anyone for that matter.
I believe that God allows me to be of use in his service, but he does not completely depend on how well I tell others about him. Nor, for that matter, does the eternal fate of others depend on how effectively and fervently I evangelize. The very idea smacks of works righteousness, and performance-based legalistic religion rather than God’s amazing grace.Some churches, groups and theological constructs would have me believe that another person’s eternity is largely up to me. If they can persuade me of such a belief, then I am going to be continually, perhaps to the point of making myself into a pest to others, telling people about my denominational brand of Jesus, and also inviting them to my religious club, which is of course better than any other religious club. It seems to me that one of the transparent religious motives of such a practice is the growth of a group, church, or congregation—for if we tell others, our friends, family, etc., if we convince them and persuade them, our church or group will grow.
Is it wrong for a church to grow? Not at all. But is any method used for growth justified? And what’s the motive for church growth? Can a healthy church not grow? Yes, there are many reasons why a healthy church may not grow. Generally, Christianity grows, and churches grow, but the desire to build and grow legally incorporated religious entities is not the primary reason for which God has placed us here on earth. Can unhealthy churches, can cults grow? Of course they can. Can cults have effective evangelistic techniques? Of course they can, and they do. Is the number of converts that we individually or corporately make directly connected to the gospel, salvation by grace? Of course not!
Christ-centered evangelism should tell others about the personal relationship we can have with Jesus, whether they join our church or not. Whether they decide to march in lock step with all of our particular practices or not, we need to tell them about Jesus. Evangelism sometimes gets those two subjects turned around. Christ-centered evangelism is all about sharing the good news of God’s amazing grace with others. But sometimes Christ-centered evangelism doesn’t seem to be a good enough, or effective-enough, sales point, so some evangelism gets into fear, using illogical straw men and bait and switch tactics, given the general idea that if folks come to our church they will be better off than where they are. But that assumption is not necessarily biblical! See, for example, Matthew 23:15.
The mark and sign of authentic Christianity is not our salesmanship, it isn’t our evangelistic tactics, it isn’t how big our church becomes, the mark of a Christian is our love (John 13:34-35). How much of the context of evangelistic methodology is based on God’s love? I do not accept the idea that I will be, or anyone else for that matter, responsible for someone burning in hell. I find the idea to be primitive and superstitious, an absolutely unwarranted misrepresentation of the God of the Bible. Witnessing can become manipulative, a technique religion can use to control its followers. Our evangelism needs to be Christ-centered—it’s not about how much success we find, it’s about telling others about him, whether they join our church or denomination or not.
Do I reject evangelism? Not at all. I believe that we should tell others about Jesus. But I don’t believe in evangelism at any price, I don’t believe that the end justifies the means. I don’t believe in placing unbiblical burdens on people in the name of church growth. I don’t believe in fear religion. I believe in telling people about God. I believe that God, in his mercy and grace, in his providence, in his time, according to his perfect and holy will, decides how and when to use us as his tools, and when he may use some other way or some other time to speak to those he issues an invitation. I believe that we are all, as Christians, a living sacrifice, and that we live a life of service in the name of our Savior. We all have been given differing gifts and abilities, and we should yield to our Lord and Savior (which isn’t always the same as religion!) so that he might use us as he wishes.
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