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Why Share the Gospel?

If Christians in other parts of the world are persecuted for sharing their faith, why do we have such a hard time with evangelism?

A couple weeks ago it was reported that the World Council of Churches and the Vatican are working to produce a joint protocol on "proselytism." This is the formal term for conversion. While it is striking that Evangelicals were not invited to this discussion—we are the ones most frequently involved in people's conversions to Christianity (ergo the name "Evangelicals"—those who share the good news of the Gospel)—this is not what stayed with me.

… we have seen other lives changed by knowing Jesus as Lord and experiencing the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.

What struck me was that this is not the only place I have seen this issue of curbing or controlling conversions lately. Laws prohibiting "induced" or "unethical" conversions have been introduced in several countries, most recently India and Sri Lanka. Some Islamic countries do not permit Muslims to convert to another religion.

It made me reflect on why we Evangelicals care so deeply about evangelism. There are probably many reasons but one of the most compelling is this: we have been changed, and we have seen other lives changed by knowing Jesus as Lord and experiencing the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. And this compels us to rejoice in and share our faith, even in the face of opposition or trials.

For example, last week I was in Bangkok at a roundtable on religious persecution in Asia. I went expecting to hear how terrible things are. I expected to hear complaints and pleas for help. What I heard instead was joy. I heard stories of great faith. I heard about the spread of the Gospel at an incredible rate. How could this be?

First of all, Jesus said that persecution would be a normal part of the Christian life. Just because we in the West have not experienced it does not mean that we should consider it strange or abnormal.

Further, James actually says that we are to "consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance" (James 1:2).

That is exactly what I saw from my brothers in Christ in Bangkok. They consider their trials joy, and they have developed perseverance because of it. James goes on to say that perseverance makes us mature and wise. I saw that in these brothers as well. Here are just a few examples:

In some parts of China, there are now more Christians than there are Communists. Is it any wonder that the government considers Christians a threat? Having been tested and purified under persecution in their own country, those Christians are willing to die for their faith. They now have plans to evangelize in other countries.

In Cambodia, Christians were severely repressed under the Pol Pot regime and the subsequent Vietnamese occupation. Since a 1991 peace agreement, things gradually improved for Christians. While they still face opposition, they are now able to practice their faith more freely. Christians are a small minority in this Buddhist country but they are growing quickly. They endured persecution, and now they live differently.

Despite the threat of anti-conversion laws in Sri Lanka, many are becoming Christians. During our meetings, I asked why and the response was that they are seeing "signs and wonders." Many are being healed and lives are being transformed by the Gospel.

It was humbling to hear the sacrifices willingly made by Christians in other countries. One brother referred to these as "the cross of Christ we bear." In Indonesia, for example, three women are in jail for teaching Sunday School. They are not even permitted to see their children. This is a difficult cross to bear but these women have not lost hope.

The sacrifices willingly borne are in contrast to what I heard from some Christians in Europe. In the face of aggressive secularism, many Christians there are in full retreat. They are afraid even to tell others that they are Christians because they fear they may not be liked or may not get a promotion at work. But only a few hundred years ago, Christians willingly died for their faith. I am not talking about the wars of religion but the thousands who were burned at the stake or died in jail or from torture.

So what about Canadian Evangelicals? Where are we in all this? An Ipsos-Reid poll a couple years back is quite instructive. It shows that only 48 percent strongly believe that evangelism is important.

While we may not want to go back to the days of persecution, we must recognize that our own culture's aggressive secularism has a similar impact in terms of repressing faith. It simply turns up the temperature of the water more slowly so that we Christian frogs don't hop out of the pot.

So what lessons do these two contrasting realities hold for Canadian Evangelicals? How should we react to attempts by secularists to privatize faith—push it out of public life into the home and the church?

From the testimonies of my Asian brothers, I can tell you that fighting back, even in the sense of aggressive language, does not work. And when one looks at the New Testament record, it is clear that not one disciple of Jesus took up arms against those who were oppressing them. Nor did they use threatening or aggressive language.

But neither did they capitulate and give up their faith. They continued to share the Gospel despite official orders to the contrary. They were willing to go to jail for their faith. Paul, in particular, used the legal system, going from court to court. They argued and they tried to persuade, and they did not give up.

Christians are willing to bear suffering and sacrifice for the Gospel because they have been changed by Christ. And when Christ transforms your life, you are compelled to share it with others. Ergo, those who have not been changed will not be compelled to share the Gospel with others, and likely, when the going gets tough, these folks will get going.

There is an old story about a church in Russia during the Communist era. Two soldiers stormed into the church. They gave everyone five minutes to either leave or they would be killed. About half the congregation left. The soldiers then barred the doors. They walked to the front and said, "We want to worship with you but we had to make sure that you were genuine Christians."

Let's consider this next time we talk with our neighbours or co workers. Have we been changed? If our faith is genuine, let's be willing to show it. If Christ has made a difference in our lives, let's take a cue from our brothers and sisters in Asia: Let's show and tell. Celebration 2006/Love Canada has just started. This is a good time and a good way to let our little lights shine, as the old camp song says.

Janet Epp Buckingham is director of Law and Public Policy and general legal counsel for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada in Ottawa.




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