Towards an Ethic of Evangelism

The word “ethic” has become a buzz word in our society.  People speak of business ethics, bioethics, and work ethic.  People talk about ethics in relationship to interpersonal relationships, professional standings, and global affairs.  Many university and master’s degrees require courses in ethics.   Being called an ethical worker is a compliment representing integrity and a level of trust, and having a solid work ethic shows dedication and commitment to an organization or project.  Yet, it was not until a few days ago that I really started thinking about ethics in a different way.  The ethics of evangelism.

You see, I went to Tyndale University, a very staunch evangelical school where people did street evangelism and went on mission’s trips with no other agenda than saving souls.  I took courses on evangelism and global Christianity and began to become aware of how many countries around the world did not have a Bible in their own language.  At the same time, I was wrestling with my beliefs about not forcing the Bible on anyone else, not using scare tactics to win souls, and being respectful of myriad different expressions of spirituality and religious practices.

ImageI remember a few years back when the Make Poverty History bracelets were the rage.  I had a white one myself acquired either at university or in high school (I don’t remember which).  I also remember getting really into truly making poverty history believing that although each individual is just ONE person they ARE one person and they CAN make a difference.  For sure, I believe that becoming aware of and trying to abolish global poverty is something every Christian is called to.  As followers of Christ we MUST take a stand again systemic injustices and the false beliefs that certain individuals are better than others because of their socio-economic status, their gender, or their ethnicity.  We must work for a future which enables all children to have a future and to have equal opportunities regardless of their level of ability or scholastic achievement.

Yet, as important as ending economic poverty is, I would also suggest that there is something else which is missing in our world.  We also need to end Bible poverty!  Before I went to IHOPKC (International House of Prayer in Kansas City) I didn’t even know that there was a name for the amount of people worldwide who did not have the Bible in their language.  During one of the worship services we had a speaker who was a worldwide leader and he told us that “Bible poverty was the greatest injustice.”

I’m thinking of my own life.  I’m thinking of the fact that I live in a country which has freedom of religion.  I have never truly had to hide my faith for fear that something majorly detrimental would happen.  Sure, I’ve met people along the way who are hardened atheists or simply indifferent to any form of religiosity, but to think that I had to hide away somewhere to avoid them is an absurdity and an untruth.  Not only that, but I personally own Bibles in at least 6 or 7 translations, can easily access a host of other translations online through Bible Gateway and own the Bible in English, French, Spanish, and German.  I have paraphrases of the Bible such as The Message as well as old school editions such as The King James Version.  I have no shortage of Bibles or Biblical material and meanwhile someone around the world doesn’t even have a PORTION (not even ONE chapter of it) in their own heart language. 

Image  I remember once when I was in university and attended the Lutheran church.  The speaker told us that we have both a heart and a head language.  He was from the Congo.  He could speak fluent English.  He could have an intelligent and meaningful conversation with us in English, but at the core of who he was, Lingala was still his heart language.  He could express himself in his tribal dialect in Lingala in a way that English only touched the surface of.  When he prayed in Lingala his prayers flowed with intense emotion and passion compared to when he prayed in English which seemed foreign and strange to him.  Lingala is the language which he used to emit phrases describing his deepest hopes, fears, happiness, and sadness.  And so this pastor told us that EVERY person should have the Bible available to them in their heart language because that is the language in which they can commune with God in the fullest and deepest way possible.

ImageWe have a core member (resident) at L’Arche who loves to use the phrase, “not telling…secret!”  I may ask her, “Mary-Anne what are you doing this weekend?” Her response? Not telling.  SECRET.  I may ask her, “What did you do at work today?”  Her response?  Not telling.  SECRET.  Finally, I may ask her “how old are you turning?”  Her response? Not telling.  SECRET.  In Mary-Anne’s case she actually happens to not be all that good at holding secrets in and it is only a matter of time before she caves and tells us whatever the answer to the question is.  She says it merely as a joke.  As a way of asserting the fact that she knows a truth which we don’t know and that this in some profound way gives her an authority or power that until we know the answer to it she holds a treasure which we are unaware of.  Yet, in my own life, I have adopted this attitude even during times when I had no intention of sharing the Gospel with another.

In my second year at Tyndale I did an internship at a multi-faith nursing home with the chaplain.  I was asked by residents on several occasions what I personally believed and even a few times if I thought Jesus was truly the Son of God.  Since I was perhaps a bit shy or embarrassed about my faith instead of giving them the Good News of the Gospels I responded with a NOT TELLING, SECRET type of attitude.  Sometimes I’m hanging out with non-Christian peers or co-workers and they’ll ask me something about the Scriptures.  Even though I went to Bible college and seminary I become flustered with their questions and because I don’t want my status to diminish among them I respond with Not telling…. Secret.  Sometimes I’m even in church and a theological disagreement arises.  One would think that church is the one place where I should feel free to share my thoughts and opinions about what I have studied, but instead because everyone else seems to take the other side of the debate I simply go into myself and when asked my opinion respond with not telling, secret.

Recently at a church Bible study, my “second father” (mentor) was reading from a paraphrase of the Bible.  I believe it was the CGV but I could be wrong.  The verse from 1 Corinthians 15 states, “you should be embarrassed that some don’t know about Christ.” (  That hit me like a ton of bricks.  Paul is saying it’s a downright embarrassment, a real shame that some don’t know the truth of the Scriptures and that in many countries the truths aren’t even available to them.

I think back to the verses in the Bible which say: 14 But how shall they ask him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? 15 And how will anyone go and tell them unless someone sends him? That is what the Scriptures are talking about when they say, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the Gospel of peace with God and bring glad tidings of good things.”[b] In other words, how welcome are those who come preaching God’s Good News! (Romans 10:14-15

It all reminds me of when I was in seminary and for one of my classes on different worship styles we attended an African Methodist Episcopal church.  In fiery African American style Rev. Tinsel boldly proclaimed, “It’s a DOWNRIGHT shame that some are going to bed hungry tonight.  It’s a DOWNRIGHT shame that people have to steal in order to have food on the table.  It’s a DOWNRIGHT shame that men were brought up in a culture that teaches they are allowed to commodify women.   It’s a DOWNRIGHT shame…”

I think she is right.  It definitely is a downright shame that there are people who live in poverty, who feel they aren’t good enough and who feel they aren’t capable of ever being loved.  It’s a downright shame that people lie and are dishonest.  It’s also a downright shame that we who know the truth of the Gospel remain smugly indifferent to the millions who have no possible way of knowing who Christ is.  Instead of getting dirty we remain on the sidelines of our faith watching from a distance.  God calls us to be active participants with the Scriptures not just passive observers and to be an active participant means to love and serve others and to work towards justice and a reign of peace on this earth!  To make the Kingdom of God happen in our day and age rather than just in the age to come. Image

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