My life of proselytization
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. – John 14:6 (NASB)
And Jesus came up 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 the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” -Matt 26:18-20 (NASB)
And if we really believe this, we will share this news with the world. Because Jesus told us to. Because he is the only way. And I did.
I witnessed with all the faithfulness and fervor that I could muster, because I believed it all. I would hang out at the bus depot and airport handing out Jack Chick tracts to strangers (this was the pre-9/11 world). I would pray outside bars and stripjoints, hoping to catch people as they walked outside and convince them of their sinful ways. I would tell my mother and father, brother and sister about the Jesus that I knew, our Savior who was the only way to our salvation.
I would try to convince my mother, once a committed Christian and now a practical atheist, the error of her backsliding ways. I even got her to go to church with me a few times, but not before informing the pastor that I was bringing her and if he would not mind directing a word or two of his message her way.
At work, I did my mightiest to live my witness for Jesus Christ. I prayed every morning that God give me the strength and the power of the Holy Spirit to witness to my friends. And I did every working day. Sometimes I would go to parties with my workmates, my strategy being that I could steer the conversation to the Gospel Message in a classic ‘bait and switch” maneuver.
I went on Church Missions, usually to the inner city. However, my most memorable missions trip was to south Florida after Hurricane Andrew. Sure we helped clean up, repaired what could be fixed, fed and comforted people. But again, in a classic bait and switch, we always presented the Gospel of Jesus Christ to these people. “The Hurricane has left you without hope? Jesus will give you your hope back!” Because that’s what it is all about, right? The destroyed houses are mere temporary things, but our souls are eternal. I invited homeless people into my own apartment, to feed them and witness to them. I liked them. They were usually my easiest converts.
I went through years of University work studying astrophysics. It was very difficult to be a witness for Jesus Christ in this setting because everyone would reject the Bible’s claim for a young Earth and a 6 day creation. Trying to convince these scientists and PhD candidates to base their faith on a book that claimed a very young earth, a 6 day creation, talking donkeys, fiery chariots from heaven and a sun that occasionally stops in its tracks was absolutely impossible. Phillip Johnson once came to speak at our campus. The question and answer period was very entertaining – the biology professors made absolute hash of his anti-evolutionary arguments. How could I continue to witness Jesus Christ in this context? I decided to live my witness. Everyone knew I was a born again Christian, but I did not go out of my way to proselytize. I soon discovered that ‘living a witness’ was a cop-out. I was acting like any other well-adjusted law abiding citizen. Living my witness meant being no better and no worse then anybody else.
When I left academic life I began actively witnessing again. Then I met the woman who would eventually be my wife. We started dating, and I soon discovered that she was Catholic. I needed some subtlety when witnessing to her, after all I kind of liked her and did not want her to think I was too much of a nut. I invited her to my Baptist Church, and she invited me to her Catholic. She told me about why she revered Mary, the Saints, what the mass meant, and everything else associated with mainline Catholicism. While I did not believe as she did, I learned to at least appreciate it. I told her about all my beliefs, and we tried and I think succeeded to see how our differing views could be compatible. After all, she still looked to Jesus as the only source for the forgiveness of sins, everything else is superfluous, right?
I then became exhausted from witnessing. I was exhausted and drained from believing that I and my small sect of Christian brethren have the exclusivity on truth and everyone else, no matter what their beliefs, are going to eternal torment. I was sick of believing that I was on the narrow path of righteousness, and my loved ones are on the wide path leading to destruction when in many cases, they are just simply much better people than I am.
For most of these individuals, it is not a matter of loving darkness rather than light as the Gospel of John claims. People believe what they believe from personal conviction and family tradition, or because they are not lead to by scientific, historical or philosophical arguments, or simply because their own particular, heretical beliefs lead them to lead fulfilled and productive lives. And yes, yes, I know what the Christian will reply at this point: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6). Because Jesus is the only way, right?
I watched the movie Gandhi several months ago. In the movie, India was being torn apart by Islamic and Hindu factions which would eventually result in the formation of Pakistan. Towards the end of his life, Gandhi, who seems to have lived as Christ-like a life as any man who walked the face of the earth proclaimed- “I am HINDU! I am MUSLIM! I am CHRISTIAN! I am JEW!” He was sick of all the religious fighting. This was a universalist and even secular proclamation that we are one humanity, not religious divisions. That scene brought me to tears, because I was just as sick of it as he was. I lived the proselytizing life. I understand.
I have witnessed the Gospel of Jesus Christ for most of my adult life, guilt-ridden because I was afraid all of humanity was lost in delusion and in their sins, and if I did not witness to them, they were eternally lost. I could not have real peace with that burden placed on me.
Then I became sick of that guilt, I became sick of that arrogance of exclusivity, I became sick of looking at our life as a trial from God to see if we believed the correct doctrines, and I refused to accept it anymore.