I was talking with a friend on Monday night about evangelism. He's been wrestling with whether or not to stay in a student parachurch group, and recently decided to stop. One thing he said I've been mulling over: he said that to be salt and light, you can't lose your properties. Those properties, he said, weren't evangelizing: they were walking with God and becoming more like him. I asked him why he was separating the two. After all, when Jesus was here in a body, he went with his disciples lots of times and they evangelized together. Sure, it was easier then to see that Jesus was right next to you, but if He was with them often when they were witnessing, aren't we walking with God when we witness, too? He seemed to agree with me, then.
At another point in the conservation, my friend said that as he looks at the Code Blue Rallies, etc., he's just wondering whether he should be getting all into the conservative thing. After all, isn't it more important to find your identity in Christ than in conservatism? This, too, concerned me. I told him what I'd heard back in an IWU chapel. The speaker was saying that in the Marines, everyone is a rifleman. After that, you have other assignments, but first and foremost you're a rifleman. Cook? He's not primarily a cook. He's a rifleman who happens to be on mess duty. Tank operator? He's not primarily a tank operator. He's a rifleman who happens to be on tank duty. That's how I see my identity in Christ compared to everything else. I'm a Christian first, and everything else is secondary. I'm a Christian who happens to be a conservative. But this doesn't mean I stop being a conservative, as long as it doesn't hamper my identity in Christ.
Lately, it seems like I've been hearing an awful lot of people looking down on evangelism. Or "evangelicals," whatever that means. Two Sundays ago the sermon was about Jesus not being conservative or liberal. He was "in the middle," and that's why everyone hated Him. He wasn't like the liberals who watered down their message to be more palatable until they had no message. And He wasn't like the conservatives, who spent all their time figuring out what was right and wrong. Then, once they were assured they were in the right, they went around telling everyone else how wrong they were.
I gotta say, sitting in the audience that day, I never felt so uneasy in a church setting since I was sitting under the preacher at CBM. The man speaking was busily judging "conservatives" as being too judgmental, and I wondered if he realized what he was saying/doing. After the sermon was done, I turned to the guy next to me (I couldn't just sit there!) and told him how much this sermon concerned me. The speaker hadn't even defined the words "conservative" and "liberal." Who did he actually mean when he was talking about conservatives? James Dobson? The guy evidently didn't share my concern. He just said that maybe the speaker meant "someone who holds onto old ways of doing things" when he used the word conservative.
So I left that day still wondering who the speaker meant when he decried conservatives. I also wondered whether he was speaking only for himself, or if the elders agreed with what he said. My answers didn't come that day. They came on Tuesday.
Tuesday of last week I met with the teaching elder and his wife. They asked about my background before I visited the church. We chatted about lots of things, and he and his wife told me about their kids' experiences in public schools in both Canada and here. In Canada it was so unpopular to be a Christian that no one claimed Christ unless they really had Him. They both talked about there "always being a remnant." Their kids were at first really excited when they moved here to the U.S., becuase on their first day of school, everybody was a Christian (or at least said they were!). Gradually, though, their kids found that many of the people claiming Christ were no different from anyone else. So they began to see again that "there's always a remnant." They said that even during times when a large percentage of the population was claiming Christ, many of them were just cultural Christians. Only a few of those saying they were Christians really cared about Christ and lived it. He told me about a Businessmen's Revival that happened in Chicago. He first heard about it in a class, and it was told as if it was a great thing, with businessmen getting together, praying, and getting back to God. The meetings were even covered as front page news! He decided to look into the story himself, and looked up the Chicago Tribune microfiche. Lo and behold, the paper was only about 14 pages at that point, so every story started on the front page. Everything was "front page news." Also, within just a few weeks of all the hubbub, there was no more coverage. The a letter came from the man who had started it. He asked "Where'd you all go? A few weeks ago you all were meeting here to have lunch together and pray. And now you're not here at all!" This proved, according to the elder, that that society was much like ours, where spirituality came and went as a fad. He said to look at PromiseKeepers. He asked me why it failed, and then answered his own quetsion: it went political. He said that he believes PromiseKeepers, viewed with the mist of time, will be just like the Businessmen's Revival. As the years pass, people will forget how it petered out. They will talk about how spiritually awake we all were because of this great even when really it was just another fad. As a whole, there's a remnant, and then there's people that claim Christ but don't live for him. For men in both "awakenings," they came, they experienced, and the next time it was announced, the thought was "Well, did that. Don't need to do that again." (This sidenote made me very sad, because I knew how much my Dad had enjoyed PromiseKeepers, and that it was a good thing. I guess I shouldn't have been too terribly surprised, though, at how dismissive he was, because hadn't he dismissed Rob Bell out of hand as well?) After I told them a little bit of my history, they asked if I had more questions about the church. I had thought about this an awful lot, and talked to Mom and Dad about it. I asked what the church's focus was as a whole on the pro-life issue. (A week before I'd called the two crisis pregnancy centers in town to ask what churches they recommended on the basis of support. They gave me several names and said they had many more. But the church I'd been visiting hadn't given for the last eight years.)
The elder said that he and the rest of the elders were pro-life, but they didn't see it as the church's role to do things as a church-wide endeavor on abortion. He sees the role of the church as doing things on an individual level: individually talking with people, not trying to change society as a whole. He said that I'd probably agree with all of what they believed on the pro-life issue. He said that he sees James Dobsob as misguided in his activism. When the church is always out there just telling people they're doing stuff wrong, they're seen as reactionary. (Even at that point, such an empty statement rang hollow. Should we really care if others see us as reactionary, if we know we're doing the right thing?). He said that a lot of people are just trying to turn back the clock to a time they think was perfect. But really, even the 1950's aren't that kind of a period of time. There were a lot of people claiming Christ that were just cultural Christians. I don't remember the exact order that the following topics came up, but this was what we discussed: I told him and his wife about the "Sexuality Week" that'd been declared on campus, and that highlighted events from groups like "Ladies Loving Ladies," etc. He calmly told me that he and his wife had seen all this sort of thing, because the sexual revolution started in their lifetimes. He said that this sort of thing is like an engine that can't be stopped. He said that any attempt to make a stand against it would be seen as that person trying to bring back the days of sexual tyranny, and they won't have any of it. When he told me that "it couldn't be stopped," I knew that we were at an impasse. I couldn't partner with people who weren't interested in partnering. The first thought that came to my mind was William F. Buckley's quote (bless his heart!) about his standing athwart history yelling "STOP!" I don't think I could have had a contrast any bigger than what I was hearing from this elder, and what I've heard from my parents and Scripture.
The conversation went on, and I asked him what he thought about Wilberforce, and his steady efforts to change society -- not just on an individual level -- but on a massive scale. God used him in politics, and he was even the best friend of the prime minister. He was intimately involved in politics, and changing society. His answer? "That was a different time. He lived in a Judeo-Christian culture." WOW. I tried bringing him back to his previous statements about how there was always a remnant, but they were always massively outnumbered by the Christians-in-name-only. But he casually disagreed. He said, no, that was a Judeo-Christian country at the time. I tried telling him about the prostitution rate (over 25% of women in a certain age were prostitutes). I didn't want to go into the stuff about the Prince of Wales. I sat there wondering how picture perfect a nation could be that condoned slavery. I was having a hard time listening politely when I so utterly disagreed with what he said. I went on to talk about how he changed the law about slavery: how he didn't let himself think that it was unstoppable. Instead, he kept trying, kept trying, kept trying. Isn't that the model we should follow? That's when the wife told me the thing that crushed that leg of the conversation. You looked across the table and said "But you are not the best friend of the Prime Minister." (It wasn't until I was walking back that I thought of a response to this. If Wilberforce had followed the model of having beliefs but never trying to change any laws, he never could been used by God as he was. The one thing I did think of at the time was that if Wilberforce had come to them when he was wrestling with staying in Parliament or leaving because of his new-found faith, I really think they would have told him to leave. Now I'm not so sure: they might have told him to stay, but wouldn't have gotten involved. They told me that if I see a need to do things politically on campus and that kind of thing, I should go ahead. But that's not what I was looking for. I don't want to just go and do my own thing (okay, so yes I do, but I know I shouldn't want that!). I want to be working with other people united for a cause and a purpose).
As an antitode to what I'd just been hearing, all the way back to campus I started naming off my heroes: Wilberforce, Dinesh D'Souza, Reagan, Solzhenitsyn, Coulter, etc. I just did not want to fall into the way of saying "It can't be done, so why try?" I would rather be the one that said, "I tried, and tried, and tried, and I'm going to keep trying, trying, trying! C'mon, join me! Let's go try again!"
I knew I hadn't accurately conveyed how concerned I was about what they were saying. When the teaching elder told me he wouldn't a sermon on abortion because that would politicize it, I saw clearly that my waiting for this would have gone on for a long time, but I was glad that he just said this straight up. I really had been telling myself, "Ok, ok. So there wasn't a worldview-focused sermon last week, or a worldview-focused class last week. But I'm sure it'll be coming soon!" I'm so glad I've been delivered from that delusion. The thing that concerned me, too, was as they talked about the individual witness, I told them that for myself, I look at the world and feel totally overwhelmed. But if I concentrate on one person, I can see something to do. They both nodded their heads emphatically at that, and said -- yes -- you've got it! At the time, I didn't know what to make of this. I was agreeing, but only on some part of it. I still saw Dobson as doing the right thing, too! So I realized that I was being confronted with a false dichotomy. It's really not necessary to make a choice between individual conversations and mass communication for my entire life. Yes, in a certain situation, I'll have to make a call on that, but I don't have to give up one or the other methods! The thought that came to me when I was walking back was "Jesus' dying on the cross was a mass communication event." That was enough to end my doubt, and realize that if Christ used both methods: talking one-on-one with a woman at a well, and stretching his arms out on a cross for everyone to see, I don't have to choose between these two methods.
In that conversation I started out talking about, I shared that I don't see witnessing as an attempt to push my framework of ideas, my worldview, on another person. Oh no: as I see it, Truth (Jesus) is not at all dependent on my views and thoughts. He continues to be Truth, even if I don't acknowledge Him. So what am I doing when I'm witnessing? I'm not saying "Here, take my views and try 'em on for size." I'm saying "I know this True. I've found it, and I want you to find it, too. Let's look for Truth together!" I see it as loving the other person. I mean, it's only if I don't care for someone that I won't share what I know to be true and lifegiving with them!
As to the characterization of conservatives only caring about what's right and what's wrong, well, as a Christian that happens to be a conservative, I can tell you that I do think about that alot. Y'know why I do? Because God tells me to. And I don't mean a little voice whispering in my head. I mean a voice speaking to me through Scripture. It's just really strange to me how these antagonstic ideas toward evangelism came up from two different sources in such a short amount of time. Yes, yes, yes, it does matter very much how I point others to Truth. But it matters that I point them to Truth. I know that one of my biggest temptations is to say "I'm not going to do something if I can't do it perfectly." But if I wait until I can witness perfectly, well, brother, it ain'ta never gonna happen. In all the hullaballoo about conservatives, arrogance, and all that, I don't want to cast stones at the person who's showing me up, witnessing more than I am. I want to join with that person instead.