Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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Wimpy evangelism

Forty-five years ago there was a city-wide outreach in our city based on the theme “I found it!” The slogan was purposefully vague so as to engage all churches who called themselves Christian.

The purpose of the slogan was to prompt people to ask “What did you find?” To which the answer was “New life in Jesus Christ.” This answer encompassed a wide range of possibilities of what the new life could be or how it could be attained.

The campaign was ambitious, including billboards, bumper stickers, radio and TV spots, mail outs and a newspaper supplement with testimonials from the whole Christian spectrum. Members of all denominations made a door to door campaign to distribute New Testaments to every home. They were ready to answer people’s questions and to ask them if they had found it or were interested in hearing more about finding it.

The whole effort was so vague, like a gray fog over the city, whose origin or meaning could not be discerned. The slogan was deliberately vague to get past the resistance of the populace and the media to all things Christian. So vague that we couldn’t clearly articulate what we were trying to get past their resistance.

“I’ve found it!” just didn’t resonate with people like another well-known slogan of the day: “Things go better with Coke!” We knew it was all over the day we saw a bumper sticker that read: “I stepped in it!” and laughed. We had tried so hard to appeal to everyone that there was no message left.

Evangelism that talks about Jesus but doesn’t try to make disciples, what good does it do? Discipleship means discipline. People willingly discipline themselves for a sport or a cause that they believe in. If Christian faith is not worth self-denial and discipline, why should anyone be interested?

If we are so afraid that people will find Christianity offensive that we try to water it down, it has no power to change people’s lives. Perhaps we should consider the success of Buckley’s Mixture cough syrup. W. K. Buckley freely admitted that it tasted awful, but said it worked. They have used advertisments that showed a bottle of Buckley’s Mixture and proclaimed: “You’d have to be really sick to take that stuff!”, followed by the question “Are you sick?” That is effective advertising.

Jesus didn’t try to sugar coat his message. He was gentle to the sinner who repented, yet blunt with the self-righteous. He seemed to look for ways to confront the scribes and Pharisees with the emptiness of their law, it’s lack of power to make a difference in the lives of sinners.

The result of wimpy evangelism is not wimpy Christians, it is make-believe Christians or outright atheists.

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild

GENTLE Jesus, meek and mild,
Look upon a little child,
Pity my simplicity,
Suffer me to come to Thee:

Fain I would to Thee be brought,
Dearest God, forbid it not:
Give me, dearest God, a place,
In the kingdom of thy grace.

-Charles Wesley

The words of the song give us an appealing description of our Lord and Saviour. There is a snare in the way, however, if the way we define gentle, meek and mild comes to resemble wimpiness. If we think that we are following “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” when we shrink back from openly confessing our faith in Him, we have fallen into the snare.

What picture do the gospels give of this gentle and meek Jesus? It is recorded in John chapter eight that the Pharisees brought a woman to Jesus who had been captured in the very act of adultery and told Him that the law of Moses said she should be stoned. Jesus did not argue, He simply said “Very well then, whichever of you has no sin may cast the first stone.” Then He stooped down and wrote in the dust. We may safely assume that He was not playing tic-tac-toe or drawing funny faces. It appears that He wrote things that made each of them feel very uncomfortable and they decided one by one that they had urgent business elsewhere.

In chapter nine Jesus encounters a man who was born blind. In other instances He simply spoke a word to heal the blind or raise the dead. Here He spits on the ground, takes the mud, smears it on the man’s eyes and tells him to go wash in the pool of Siloam. Why such an elaborate procedure in this one instance? The Bible does not say, but from the context it appears that Jesus considered this a teachable moment, an opportunity to reveal the hardness of the Pharisee’s hearts. It was the Sabbath day and Jesus’ method of healing on this occasion involved work on His part and on the part of the man healed. The blind man appears to have had his eyes opened in more ways than one. He was excommunicated from the synagogue for working on the Sabbath and was not greatly troubled by it, because he had found the Son of God.

In His visit with the Samaritan woman in John chapter four, Jesus flouts the rules of proper Jewish etiquette. It was not considered proper to visit alone with a woman, nor to ask a woman for a drink. The fault was compounded by the fact that Samaritans were considered to be unclean from birth. Yet Jesus sat there at the well engaging in a banter with this woman that gently led into the revelation of the woman’s marital status. We are tempted to pause here and pass a moral judgement on this woman. Remember, though, that the Samaritans had the Pentateuch and the law of Moses, which made no provision for a woman to divorce her husband. We are not told what fault, or whim, caused her to be rejected and divorced by five men. Nor do we need to know, it was a common practice, both among the Jews and the Samaritans. Jesus’ statement that “he whom thou now hast is not thy husband” is somewhat enigmatic. It may mean nothing more than that she was espoused to a sixth man, but not yet married.

The disciples were astonished to find Jesus sitting and visiting with this Samaritan woman. No doubt they were even more ill at ease when Jesus decided to enter this Samaritan town, accept the hospitality of Samaritans, eat Samaritan food and teach the way of salvation to Samaritans. These were the “fields white unto harvest” that the disciples were unable to see at first, due to their Jewish prejudices.

In all these examples we see Jesus as genuinely meek and mild, yet His conduct can in no way be described as wimpy. In other circumstances, we observe that Jesus was nowhere near so gentle with those he saw to be hypocrites. Even in those circumstances, he did not fly into fits of rage, or make baseless accusations. He just bluntly spoke the truth.

All these examples lead me to conclude that if it is my custom as a professing believer to go to great pains to avoid any danger of confrontation for what I believe, I cannot truly claim to be a follower of Jesus.

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