What do you think of when I say the word ‘evangelism’ or the word ‘witnessing?’ Do they mean the same thing or are they different from one another? And, just who’s supposed to be doing them anyway?1
Many of us like to believe that, they’re someone else’s job, right? Evangelism is something preacher’s do in rented auditoriums. That’s not something I can do. And witnessing, well, that’s really more about how we behave in front of non-Christians, so as long as I look and act like a Christian in public, I’m good, don’t you think?
Check this out.
“Atheist Penn Jillette is one half of Penn and Teller, a duo that has been headlining Vegas shows for years with comedy and the art of illusion. Penn has never been shy about his disbelief in God, often writing about his conviction in articles and best-selling books. Yet in an on-line video blog that can be found on YouTube, Penn shares a story about the time a gracious Christian businessman gave him a Bible as a gift. Penn goes on to use the story as an opportunity to point out that Christians who don’t evangelize must really hate people. Here’s the direct quote from his video blog:
‘I’ve always said, you know, that I don’t respect people who do not proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that, uh, well, it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think that people shouldn’t proselytize, [saying] “Just leave me alone and keep your religion to yourself”—uh, how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize them? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? I mean, if I believed beyond the shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming to hit you, and you didn’t believe it, and that truck was bearing down on you, there’s a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.’”2
Wow! That’s pretty strong language, isn’t it? Keeping life-saving information to myself isn’t very ‘Christian’ behavior. So I’ve blown it on both counts, haven’t I? I didn’t evangelize or witness.
In her book, Evangelism, Ellen White defines evangelism as“opening the Scriptures to others, warning men and women of what is coming upon the world,”3
Is there anything in that definition that you and I couldn’t do? She doesn’t say that evangelism takes any kind of specialized degree; it’s just “opening the Scriptures” to people. As Penn would say, yanking people out from in front of that truck that we know is coming and they don’t.
Witnessing, on the other hand, is sharing our individual experience with Jesus with whom the individuals we come in contact.
“All who are on the Lord’s side are to confess Christ. ‘Ye are My witnesses, saith the Lord.’ The faith of the genuine believer will be made manifest in purity and holiness of character. Faith works by love and purifies the soul, and with faith there will be corresponding obedience, a faithful doing of the words of Christ. Christianity is always intensely practical, adapting itself to all the circumstances of actual life. ‘Ye are My witnesses.’ To whom?—To the world; for you are to bear about with you a holy influence. Christ is to abide in your soul, and you are to talk of Him and make manifest the charms of His character.”4
We, as Christians, have a real problem though. A few folks who have called themselves Christians, have failed to “make manifest the charms of His character.” And that’s really sad because without positive witnessing, no evangelism can happen.
I ran into that brick wall just recently. A good friend of mine and I were talking about some trivia of the day when a third friend walked up and started kidding about some areas in which his and my Christian community have some internal disagreement. The first friend then went on to remember a negative experience she had had many years ago that led to her rejecting my belief because “those people are crazy; they don’t follow the Bible.”
I have to admit that I was crushed. I have been praying for almost a year that my witness would help the Holy Spirit to soften her heart once more.
What a set back! Just because my friend’s earlier relationship with my Christian family was unpleasant, my ability to witness to her is more difficult.
“In an interview with World magazine, author and speaker Mike Bechtle questioned the church’s use of what he would call spam evangelism. He believes that when the gospel is shared outside of relationship, unbelievers often put up thicker emotional walls. He shared a personal story from his past to emphasize his point:
‘A college classmate decided to walk down Central Avenue in Phoenix at lunchtime and ask women to kiss him. He wanted to see how many people he would have to ask before someone took him up on it. After being repeatedly cursed, ignored, and slapped a couple of times, the 98th woman gave him a kiss. Using the logic of spam evangelism, he might say, ‘It was worth it, because I actually got one person to kiss me.’ I wondered about the other 97 women who might be more hardened than ever, more suspicious, and more wary of men approaching them on the street. In the same way, I think a lot of unbelievers have been hardened by aggressive witnessing techniques.”5
Are you and I making it harder for the believers who come after us to witness or evangelize the folks around us because we are not portraying our Savior in a positive and endearing way? Are we leaving all of the sharing to the preachers?
“And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Amen.” Matthew 28:18-19
Jesus didn’t say that some of His disciples needed more school; He didn’t say that some had to stand on the sidelines because they didn’t have the right credentials. Jesus just said, “Go.” And they went.