Should evangelism always suit a 21st century culture?

On Ash Wednesday, several Episcopalian priests from the San Diego, CA area went onto local street corners, putting ashes onto the heads of pedestrians. According to the article I read, this event was created so people who were too busy to go to church could participate in this rite. Some even stuck their heads out of car windows while waiting at the red light to have the service done! They advertised the event on a large sandwich board stationed on the sidewalk, with a prominent LGBT rainbow flag attached to it.

On my Facebook account, I shared the news story. I explained that I knew it was Ash Wednesday, but I had never heard of religious leaders applying ashes to random people’s foreheads. (It might not be the same, but would they do this with baptism? With communion?) On my Facebook page, I questioned the whole affair and added that I wasn’t sure why the rainbow flag was displayed, especially since there were no other flags. If the priests were catering to others besides homosexuals, perhaps a U.S. or Christian flag would have been good to add in. Or, since this area of town has a large homosexual population, was this rainbow flag intended to show that the ashes were only meant for homosexuals and no one else? If there was such a thing as a “straight flag” and it was displayed by itself, what would the reaction have been? Would the priests have been called “homophobes”? To me, the whole affair was very confusing.

gavelSeveral friends responded on my page, criticizing my “narrow-mindedness.“ One person who says she is a Christian wrote: “Perhaps the pastor isn’t endorsing anything by holding signs, and being on a street corner. Perhaps he’s just spreading good news and love to ALL people. The Jesus I know loves people of ALL faiths, ALL walks of life, ALL colors, and ALL orientations equally. He calls them to him and embraces them always with loving open arms! I want no part of making that call in judging people; that is God’s job, not ours.”

It is the kind of comment we get on a regular basis from many who criticize us at MRM. After all, they ask, what gives us the right to tell others that their views are wrong? I wrote back:

“Not to argue, but let me ask some questions to make my point. This Jesus you speak about, doesn’t He say in John 7:24 to ‘make a right judgment’? And was Jesus never judgmental? (See Matt 23:27-28, John 8:44, and there’s a host of others I could quote.)”

I also trotted Paul out. After all, didn’t the apostle judge the Corinthians (see 1 Corinthians 5:1ff)? In this passage, he told the believers to “expel the immoral brother.” The man in question was apparently having sexual relations with his father’s wife. “And you are proud!” Paul retorted. “Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this?” He added, “I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present.”

I’m just not sure why these priests who call themselves “Christian” want to participate in what is, for them at least, a religious rite with a group of people who may or may not call themselves Christian and who are proudly sexually immoral. Paul explained in 1 Corinthians 5:11 that “you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.” These are tough words, but Paul was serious about what he was saying.

Letters to the seven churches are listed in Revelation chapters two and three. The first letter is addressed to the church of Ephesus. After the church is initially criticized, Jesus gives some positive words in verse 6: “But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” (The Nicolaitans are also referred to in the next letter to Pergamum.) What were those practices? The Nicolaitans were well known for practicing spiritual liberty that they felt gave them the ability to practice idolatry and immorality. And according to these words, Jesus hates idolatry and immorality.

But wait, doesn’t’ Jesus love all people? There is no doubt that God does have a love for all humankind, a general benevolence that allows the rain to fall on both the just and the unjust. But He hates worship and practices that don’t give honor to Him. In this 21st century that has become filled with political correctness, Christians who have a zeal to share truth with the unsaved are told to pipe down and mind their own business. We must be careful, we are told, because we just don’t want others to be offended. It might make them feel bad about themselves.

I disagree with this way of thinking. While we do what we do with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:16), it behooves us to share the honest truth with everyone. I believe that homosexuality and Mormonism are not unforgiveable sins, but I believe that homosexuality can be equated with immorality and Mormonism with idolatry. It is possible to let others know, from a biblical point of view, that these ways are not God’s ways, while at the same time not resort to ad hominem (against the man) attacks. I don’t hate Mormons or homosexuals, but I certainly don’t agree with their practices.

Indeed, we all fall short of God’s expectations; every person comes to the throne of grace imperfect and in need of forgiveness.  However, when we arrive to the point where we say that “I want no part of making that call in judging people, that is God’s job, not ours,” the gospel becomes the Biggest Loser. Will we become like those Christians in Nazi Germany who decided to bite their lips and just go with the flow as people were sent to concentration camps? Or because Mormons are such a moral people, will we be satisfied in letting them go to hell because, quite frankly, we don’t want to experience what Walter Martin called “Rockaboatis”?

We are commanded to be ambassadors of light and point to truth in a loving way. Jesus commanded it! And the example can be seen throughout the New Testament. Christian, let’s not be intimidated, even when people don’t want us to stand for truth.

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6 Responses to Should evangelism always suit a 21st century culture?

  1. Mike R says:

    Eric, well said. I’ve always felt it strange how many Mormons resort to playing the ” persecution
    card ” when they are in a conversation with a non-Mormon who is very persistent in disagreeing
    with them concerning various Mormon doctrines. It seems the Mormon church keeps this type
    mentality alive , especially in Utah . I know that this behavior and the terms invented to
    bolster it ( ” a-ti Mormon” etc ) can make it difficult at times to minister to Mormons but
    nobody said that bringing the true gospel to these precious people or anyone else would be
    easy or popular in these days . Thanks for people like you ,Sharon, Bill, Aaron, Grindael,
    who encourage us on .

  2. Old man says:

    Eric, I can’t imagine that any true Christian would disagree with the sentiments you’ve expressed but I’m afraid that live & let live has become the motto of the (present) day. Perhaps it should be changed to read the same as the James Bond film, live & let die, for that is exactly what we do if we fail to speak out against anything that is or leads to sin & ultimately, if not corrected, to death.
    I realise that what’s been said will come across as arrogant to those who have no beliefs & I’m equally sure they will say that it’s an attempt to control peoples lives, not so, I for one have no interest in controlling anyone. I simply happen to believe that the truth as I understand it should be available to anyone who wishes to hear it, & depending on the situation, by those who would rather not hear. By the way, I find it hard enough to control my own life without trying to control the lives of others & as for those who say we are being judgemental, you have rightly said that scripture tells us to be so.

  3. Rick B says:

    Eric in the article said

    Several friends responded on my page, criticizing my “narrow-mindedness.“ One person who says she is a Christian wrote: “Perhaps the pastor isn’t endorsing anything by holding signs, and being on a street corner. Perhaps he’s just spreading good news and love to ALL people. The Jesus I know loves people of ALL faiths, ALL walks of life, ALL colors, and ALL orientations equally. He calls them to him and embraces them always with loving open arms! I want no part of making that call in judging people; that is God’s job, not ours.”

    People who say this reject what the Bible says, and that means they either are not saved themselves because the god they say acts this way is modeled upon themselves since thats how they claim to be, or they are new believers who have not yet read the Bible. The Bible says this.

    1Cr 6:9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,

    1Cr 6:10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

    Thats a lot of people who will never enter heaven. The Bible also says,

    Mat 7:21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

    Either scripture is true and not everyone will enter heaven, or these people are right and God will allow everyone to enter. If they are right, then the Bible is wrong and cannot be trusted. So then we must ask, what group is correct and has the truth and how can we know?

  4. Kenneth says:

    This post was an excellent rebuttal, Eric.

    My only complaint is your Holocaust metaphor in the next-to-last paragraph. I think I understand the point that you were trying to make (we should actively engage our culture for good rather than watch it sink into a pit). However, some people might think that you view as equally grave the practical consequences of genocide and homosexual acts. Then again, maybe I am being the overly sensitive Christian you lovingly criticized in the article. 🙂

    Thanks again for encouraging the rest of us to speak God’s truth with boldness, not just grace. One without the other is an incomplete message of love.

  5. falcon says:

    Here’s the problem as I see it.
    In today’s world we are told that being ambivalent or tolerant towards certain life styles and behavior isn’t acceptable. The requirement is now that we embrace and celebrate “differences”. If we don’t join in the celebration we are said to be intolerant, nasty and all around bad people. I refuse to wear other peoples’ buttons, ribbons, bracelets or fly their flags if I don’t agree with their “cause”. There just going to have to accept my ambivalence and the fact that I’ll be polite but not invested in their deal.
    So was the ash Wednesday event “effective”? I don’t know because I don’t know what the point really was. It’s just a man-made rite anyway. Growing up Catholic, I had plenty of ashes placed on my forward and marched over to church every Wednesday afternoon in Lent to participate in the Stations of the Cross. I remember the Stations as being a very sobering affair drawing the participants to reflect seriously on what Jesus endured for us. I remember it as a ritual that called us to Christ in repentance of our sins and a challenge to live as He indented us to live. The message wasn’t a sort of “I’m OK, You’re OK” proclamation. We’re not “OK”. Not in the least! But we can be made “OK” through faith in Jesus and the acceptance of what He did for us on the cross. Repentance is apart of the equation.
    That’s the message that needs to be proclaimed.

  6. falcon says:

    So here’s the problem with Mormons.
    They get the part about repenting of their sins and living a righteous life-style. In fact it’s one of their major selling points; devotion, piety and right living. For some it becomes a great point of pride.
    What do they need to repent of? They need to repent of their rejection of God and His Son Jesus Christ. It needs to be clearly pointed out to them that the God they acknowledge and the Jesus they speak about isn’t the God or Jesus of the Bible.
    Mormons live in a smoke screen of religion that while looking good on the outside is a religion that is void of the Spirit and the creation of a man. If pointing this out to them is interpreted as “persecution” then I plead guilty as charged. I must admit their rejection of God and blasphemy of Jesus angers me to no end.
    It is a challenge to realize that the Mormon people have been deceived by those calling themselves prophets who are not prophets at all. Remembering this is helpful in moderating our approach.

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