Should We Stop Evangelizing?
I was once in Zhitomir, Ukraine as one of the speakers in a seminar for Ukrainian Christians and church leaders. We had a good group of Ukrainian believers, several of whom had traveled cross-country by train, to hear some Americans teaching about a Jewish Messiah who came to save the whole world. Right before the seminar was to begin, a delegation from Kiev showed up demanding to know why our little church in Zhitomir allowed women to speak in church as our translators (well, because they were fluent in both English and Russian) and why we used alcoholic wine in communion (well, because that is the “fruit of the vine” that we could actually purchase in Zhitomir; the one time we tried to buy grape juice, it turned out not to be grape at all but some kind of strange “banana-juice” concoction). We were there to talk about Jesus, but these defenders of the faith wanted to talk about their version of church that could not include female translators or fermented wine.
I thought about that story as I read a CNN editorial by Carl Medearis entitled “Why Evangelicals Should Stop Evangelizing.” The general idea of the article is that Christians have spent so much time recreating their churches on the mission field that we have become impediments to actually talking about Jesus. Medearis is a former missionary and church planter who thinks we should stop spreading "Christianity" and spend more time talking about Jesus himself. Medearis seems to be saying that we need to stop trying to make Muslims into Christians and spend more time encouraging them to be more like Jesus. Among the Lebanese people he worked with, the most violent and fierce of the armed militias driving the violence there were the “Christian” militias. They didn’t look anything like Jesus, of course, but they were “Christian.” Sometimes missionaries (and preachers) like my friend in Keiv, simply recreate their own church structures and compete with other groups who are recreating their own church structures. In other words, they become just like churches back home—competing for converts to their system and not looking too much like Jesus in the process.
I think Medearis has a point. He’s wrong, of course, but he has a point. Jesus is still the only other name under heaven by which people are to be saved (Acts 4:12) and faith in Jesus means accepting him as “the way, the truth and the life” that is the only way to the Father (John 14:6). No Muslim can be Muslim and believe that about Jesus. For while it is true that “there is no God but God,” it is not true that “Mohammed is his prophet.” Getting Muslims to think and act more like Jesus is great, and getting Christians to more gentle and patient with non-believers is not only great but gospel (Col 4:6). But getting people to heaven requires faith in Jesus.
But over the course of history, nothing has gotten in the way of faith in Jesus more than has Christianity. When believers in Christ do things that are not at all Christ-like in the name of Christ, then that just isn’t helpful. We have to live like Jesus to give meaning to our message about Jesus. Maybe we do need to get over some of our fixation on the external structures that go along with our experience of Christianity (which sometimes create barriers where none should exist) and spend more time pointing to the crucified one and living the crucified life.
Medearis says that evangelicals should stop evangelizing. That’s not right. What evangelicals (whoever they are) should stop is seeing their traditions, politics, or economic ideology as having anything to do with the gospel. Christianity is Christ. And maybe there is a sense in which Christianity is Christ alone. Maybe we should make our evangelism more about Christ?