Friday, 12 December 2014

Evangelism is Not Proselytism

Richard Bewes says, Keep this page by you. You are going to need it one day!
 
ALL TOO OFTEN, mainline Christian evangelists, student leaders and aid workers are accused by their critics of ‘proselytising.’ Nothing of the sort. There is a difference between proselytism and evangelism. What is it?



In Jerusalem Jesus himself used scathing language against the Pharisees of his time. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves!” (Matthew 23:15).

The King James Version ‘proselyte’ is preferable here to the blander word ‘convert’ of the NIV. Although a ‘proseelutos’ was indeed a Gentile recruit won for Judaism, the process was not an attractive one. 

The Jewish historian Josephus tells us that one Jewish high priest, John Hyrcanus (134-104 BC), even offered Idumeans the alternative of death, exile or circumcision. (Perhaps you can think of some modern belief-systems that behave in this heathen way?) When, later, the power of the Roman empire made such extreme measures illegal, then every other possible art of persuasion was attempted by the scribes and Pharisees.

All too frequently their efforts resulted in extremely low-grade ‘converts’ – in Jesus’ opinion, twice as hell-bound as their masters. It became a Jewish saying that no one should trust a proselyte, even to the twenty-fourth generation. As the German theologian H.J. Holtzmann put it, ‘the more converted, the more perverted.’ 

‘UNWORTHY WITNESS’ is what distinguishes Proselytism from Evangelism.
Some years ago John Stott drew attention to a helpful study document, ‘Common Witness and Proselytism,’ produced in 1970 by the World Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church. It states that Proselytism involves unworthy MOTIVES (concern for our own clique rather than for God’s glory), unworthy METHODS (force, bribery, psychological pressure) and an unworthy MESSAGE (the distortion of beliefs – that of others or our OWN – to achieve the desired impact). 

And Evangelism? For a definition we can hardly do better than the Manila Manifesto of Billy Graham’s great congress - drawn up in 1989: ‘to make an open and honest statement of the gospel, which leaves the hearers entirely free to make up their own minds about it.
 
We wish to be sensitive to those of other faiths, and we reject any
approach that seeks to force conversion on them.’


Billy Graham (PICTURE BGEA)


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