Cultic Studies Journal, 1985, Volume 2, Number 2, pages 326-328.
Christian Evangelism and Social Responsibility: An Evangelical View
Joseph M. Hopkins
While I deplore labels as much as the next guy, it is nevertheless true that main- stream Christians today are divided into two camps -- the universalists, who believe that Jesus Christ is the Savior of all and the evangelicals, who believe that Jesus Christ is the Savior for all. The latter interpret the Bible as teaching that salvation is contingent upon individual response to the gospel -- the 'good news" of God’s redemptive act to save the world from sin and eternal punishment through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Within this second category are to be found a wide variety of attitudes and approaches toward "the unsaved.” At one extreme are the hard-sell evangelists who press for on-the-spot conversions and glibly relegate nonbelievers to the fires of hell. At the other end of the spectrum are the soft-sell evangelists who first try to 'win a hearing" by befriending prospective converts and then by a process of gentle persuasion encourage them to make a personal commitment to Christ and the Church. They do not presume to judge those who fail to respond, but rather leave their fate in the hands of the all- loving, all merciful – yet just and holy -- God.
Christianity from its inception has been a missionary religion. The mandate for global evangelization was given by Jesus Himself just prior to His ascension:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and Io, I am with you always, to the close of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20)
The kerygma (preaching) of the apostolic church focused on Jesus Christ -- His fulfillment of prophecy, model life, atoning death, bodily resurrection, ascension to glory, continuing unseen presence through the Holy Spirit, and imminent re-turn to inaugurate a New Age of peace and righteousness. It was this message which inspired zealous apostles to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth as Christ's ambassadors (H Corinthians 5:20).
Understandably, many non-Christians resist efforts to convert them -- and particularly their children -- to Christianity. But consider the Christian's rationale for so doing: (1) God is the Creator-Father of all human beings; (2) All human beings are alienated from God by sin; (3) God loved His human family so much that He sent His holy son Jesus to make a perfect sacrifice so that penitent sinners might qualify for eternal life through faith in Him; (4) Jesus sent His disciples into all the world to share this good news with everyone; (5) Eternal life is not only future but present. It is concerned not only with saving souls ("pie in the sky by and by') but with saving minds and bodies from misery and want.
A Jewish student at the University of North Carolina, in a futile quest for happiness, pursued a life of debauchery. By his own admission, he became one of the biggest drug dealers in Chapel Hill. But his life was empty and unfulfilled. Then he met a man who distributed Christian tracts to university students. Through this concerned individual’s witness and counsel, he committed his messed-up life to Jesus Christ and was “saved - not only from a future hell but from the bondage of those sins which were in the process of destroying his life in the here-and now. Today this young convert is pastoring a Christian church.
This true story was presented recently on Chicago’s Pacific Garden Mission Unshackled radio broadcast. Every week a similar pilgrimage of faith is dramatized. Regular listeners are impressed with two things as they hear these real-life stories: (1) the power of sin to destroy, and (2) the power of Jesus Christ to save. Should those who have found deliverance, freedom, love, forgiveness, fulfillment, joy, and hope be faulted for sharing these blessings with others? And should not their right to do so, in a free society, be defended?
It is frequently objected that Christians have no right to enter Third World countries for the purpose of persuading nationals to abandon their tribal religions in favor of Christianity. This is like arguing that smallpox and polio vaccines should be denied nations where people are dying like flies from these diseases because they are trusting witch doctors instead of modern medical science. If Christians are persuaded that only the blood of Christ will atone for sin, they are morally obligated to share that life-saving knowledge with the world.
This is not to imply that Christians -as well as advocates of other religions - are entitled to kidnap or attempt conversions at the point of a sword or to resort to any kind of coercion, manipulation, or deceit in their zeal to win converts. Such approaches are to be deplored by sensitive and responsible people of all religions or of none. Also to be deplored is the assumption that the "snapping” of someone of legal age into a religious commitment justifies whatever means are necessary to "unsnap” that individual. I would grieve were one of my children to forsake Christianity for another religion. But unless I were convinced that the conversion process involved fraud, manipulation, and exploitation, I hope I would have the grace to refrain from retaliating in kind in the effort to retrieve my adult child” from the clutches of what I perceived to be a pernicious cult.
What would I do, then? As a Christian, I believe that only the Holy Spirit, ultimately, has the power to convict and convert (John 16:8). Therefore, my primary strategy would be prayer. But I would give the Holy Spirit an assist by words of refutation, instruction, and testimony -my own and those of others (family members, friends, spiritual counselors, authors, ex-cultists). I would do everything possible (short of physical abduction) to draw my son or daughter outside of the cult environment in order that he or she may have a greater opportunity for critical evaluation and valid personal choice. Above all, I would continue to love my child and keep lines of communication open.
Joseph M. Hopkins is a Professor in the Department of Religion and Philosophy of Westminster College, Westminster, Pennsylvania.