I’ve been thinking about writing about Christian witness and evangelism but I don’t think I can get around to writing the whole long thought so I am just going get some bits and pieces out there and see what I can do with them.
This first snippet is easy to work with. It’s a Sunday school class and one of the lesser pastors is impressing upon the lethargic congregation the dire importance of evangelism. To illustrate his point he turns to a child:
“Elijah, you live near an apartment building, right? So what would you do if you saw the apartment building on fire? Wouldn’t you do whatever you could to rescue the people inside? And you would not stop until they were all safe, right? So shouldn’t we do the same for all of the unsaved people around us who are going to hell if they don’t get saved?”
Now this tactic is all the more offensive for having been applied to a child, either deliberately or instinctively because a child is considered more likely to be captivated by the drama of the illustration. But there are adults in the church who would nod along, saying that perhaps some people aren’t vigorously evangelizing because they don’t really believe in a hot hell.
Okay. Stop and take your own illustration seriously. I don’t have to add anything to it or qualify it in any way to highlight the problem in this way of thinking.
Suppose the condition of the unsaved really is like being in a burning building.
Think about it.
What are we even doing in this church, then? What are we doing eating lunch or going to work?
If the Chicago fire were raging around this, would we stop even for the necessities such as food and sleep?
So then you tell me, O evangelist, how we can be so careless with the eternal souls of all our neighbors as to spend even a minute doing something else.
Your illustration is wrong because your theology is wrong. We rescue children from burning buildings or even donkeys from dry wells because we perceive that we are able to help them. Even if we cannot alone stop a great fire we can join the bucket brigade.
We do not incessantly attempt to save our neighbors because we have nothing at the outset to contribute. It is like standing entirely alone in a forest fire with a water pistol–and even that gives too much credit to our ability. We cannot save ourselves, let alone anyone else, in the smallest of degrees.
Every call to preach in the Bible is predicated on the understanding that the preacher is doing the will of God, not saving souls. Prophets have been told to teach and explicitly told that it will not be successful. Therefore our evangelism, whatever form it takes, must be predicated upon obedience–seeing God at work and celebrating or declaring that work; or even not seeing him work, but faithfully trusting that he is. This could mean “witnessing” without perceiving any impact, but it can just as readily mean not witnessing in any deliberate fashion and trusting that God is working anyway.
There is no need for desperation in soul-saving. God is in control. Not one whom he has called out will fail to come to him. We proclaim the surety of his salvation, not the tragedy of our inability to spread it fast enough.