Witnessing to the Witnesses (and others): Some useful tactics

A couple Jehovah’s Witnesses came by the other day and we visited for a while.  What would you think about my approach if you knew that I made the following points?

  • They are in the wrong religion
  • Their religion has characteristics of a cult
  • They are worshiping the wrong Jesus
  • Their New World Bible has some deliberate mistranslations
  • If you really love Jesus you’ll want to ensure you understand his nature properly
  • Hell is real

They must have thought I was a big meanie, right?  Just another one of those jerky know-it-all judgmental Christians.

Nope.  I made all those points quite clearly, yet the way I navigated the conversation resulted in the lead guy telling me in a sincere way at least three times what a nice guy I was (I give a lot of credit to Stand to Reason and Greg Koukl’s book Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions for this approach).

Now we all know I’m as friendly as a basket full of puppies (We do know that, right?!), but you usually wouldn’t expect that reaction after I just made all those points about their religion.  So what made the difference?  Things like this:

  • I focused on the Bible, because we both claim that is the word of God.
  • I stuck to a few key points: John 1:1* (which I knew they’d have a ready response to, even though I could counter it), John 1:3** (they weren’t ready for that), the JW rule about them not being allowed to take written materials from me, and that their New World Bible translation has easily identifiable errors.  I continually referred to the real Jesus — the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the creator in Genesis 1 and John 1, the one whose descriptions are used synonymously with those of God in the Old Testament, etc.
  • I told them I appreciated how they cared enough to go out and share what they think is true.
  • I used common foes (Mormonism, Islam) as examples before addressing the JW theological errors.
  • I noted that it doesn’t bother me that they think I’m wrong and that I think they are wrong, so we can have a friendly discussion on where we differ.
  • I realized I had said “JWs” instead of their religion’s full name then sincerely apologized if they found that shortcut offensive.  They didn’t, noting that they use it themselves, but my desire to avoid unnecessary offense seemed to resonate with them.
  • I listened carefully when they made their points.
  • We had some friendly chit-chat interspersed with the theological discussions (one guy was from Italy, so we talked a little about that).
  • It was a hot day (August in Texas!) so I gave them each a bottle of cold water as they left.
  • I gave them one of my “business” cards that has my church information, email address and blog site.  I know they are unlikely to visit, but I smiled and encouraged them to come spy on what the Protestants are up to.

Where these guys end up theologically is between them and God, but I was pleased with the interaction.  It always glorifies God when you speak the truth about him, regardless of how people respond.  And it definitely planted some seeds.  The lead guy was going to take the John 1:3 objections back to one of their experts to try and respond to me.  And my comments on the textual criticism issue seemed stick with them (i.e., that with the thousands of manuscripts we’ve found around the world from different centuries we know that the New World translation has errors).

I admit that I find using these tactics much easier in person than on-line.  But they do work.  I encourage you to try them if you haven’t already.  You can’t control their reactions, but you can speak the truth in love.

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*Their Bible ends John 1:1 with “a God” instead of “God.”  (The right version: John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.)

**They haven’t mistranslated John 1:3 (All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.), so you can show the logic of how Jesus can’t be a created being.  This can be used with Mormons as well.

If you can’t dictate the terms to a McDonald’s cashier, what makes you think you can do so with God?

If you authentically seek God on his terms, you will find him. If you think you get to sit in judgement of the real God, you will not find him.  If you “seek” a god of your own making, you will not find him – except in the mirror, and as you know that god has rather limited powers.  If you think that pretending He doesn’t exist will make him go away, you are mistaken.

Romans 1:18–20 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

 

Romans 9:20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?

That may sound obvious, but think about how many people insist that all religions lead to God.  Lots of false teachers in churches will tell you such things.  People claim that they wouldn’t believe in a God who says that homosexual behavior is a sin or who sends guilty sinners to Hell, as if not liking someone makes them disappear.

An acquaintance once noted that he would never believe in a God that would send his Jewish friend to Hell.  What was lost on this college-educated person is that whether he liked God or not, if the one true God will send non-believers to Hell then that is what will happen.  God is not going to disappear because this guy doesn’t like his terms and conditions.  And being in Hell with his friend is not going to make it better for either of them.  Side note: If the subject weren’t so serious it would be amusing how certain people are that they will be happier in Hell or that they get to spend time with friends and family there.

They don’t recognize the absurdity of thinking something doesn’t exist just because they don’t like it or the idea that they can tell the real God what He must be like.

What if you went to a company for a job and demanded that they hire you on your terms?  Hey, go ahead and ask for a million dollar salary and unlimited vacation.  Ridiculous, eh?  But only a tiny fraction as ridiculous as thinking you are going to tell God how things must be.

Or tell the cop who pulled you over that you set the speed limits today and that he is wasting your time.  Or pretend that he doesn’t exist because you don’t like him.

Or tell your teacher that she has to give you an A+ even though you won’t come to class, do homework or take tests.

Or if you are still at home, tell your parents that you set the rules now.

Better yet, go to McDonald’s and tell the cashier to give you your entire meal for $1 because you set the prices and see how that works.

If you can’t dictate terms to the person barely and momentarily higher than you on the cosmic organization chart, what makes you think that the one true God must answer to you or that pretending He doesn’t exist will make him disappear?  

God sets the terms, not us.  His first commandments make that explicit.  Better yet, the first verse of the Bible makes that clear.

What makes anyone think they get to dictate the terms of the universe and eternal life to the one true God?  Pride.  Satanic pride (“Did God really say . . .?”).

Be bold in prayer, but know that God still sets the terms.  Ask tough questions, but know that God is ultimately just and all-knowing (also see Job 38).  Seek him earnestly, but humbly and on his terms.

Where do you find his terms?  In the Bible.  They are indescribably generous.  All you have to do is repent and trust in Jesus.  No good deeds required – though in response to his mercy and grace and by the power of the Holy Spirit you’ll be inspired to do good deeds.  Better yet, not only are all your sins forgiven but God will credit Jesus’ perfect righteousness to your account.  It is the ultimate trade, but that is the only way to get there.

If you “seek” a god of your own making, you will not find the one true God.  If you’ve been doing that, stop kidding yourself.  Eternity is a mighty long time to regret your foolish pride.

If you authentically seek God on his terms, you will find him.

Acts 17:26–27 (ESV) And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us . . .

 

Luke 11:9-13 And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.  What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

If you are a believer, try using this line of thinking when sharing the Good News with others.  Ask someone what they think happens when they die, then use the 10 Commandments to point to their sinfulness and need of a Savior.  Explain how God sets the terms of engagement and how remarkably loving and generous they are.  Note how these same terms applied to you and how grateful you are for them.  If they start judging God or pretending that they can ignore him if they don’t like his ways, use any of the examples above to push a reset button on them.  They may not repent and believe on the spot, but you will disarm them of a really bad line of thinking and hopefully plant a seed that someone else will water.

Good news from the Middle East

We spent a few hours in the Dubai airport a couple years ago on our way to and from Kenya, but didn’t go out into the city.  It was a huge and wildly busy airport 24 hours a day.  Even from the airport windows the city looked beautiful.  I assumed it was as restrictive about Christianity as other Muslim nations, but apparently not.  Via Dubai: Amazing and Strategic City – Desiring God.

Proselytizing is against the law in the UAE. But what that means in essence is: You can’t pay someone to convert (as if that were possible) or unduly coerce them to change religions. But speaking the gospel of Jesus Christ abounds.

There are many Christian churches, and the ruler of the emirate is favorable to them for the sake of the expatriates. Only about 13% of Dubai’s local population is local Emirati people. The other 87% are expatriates, half of whom are of Indian descent. Thousands of these are Christians.

Therefore, the gospel sounds forth weekly in Dubai. And on the university campuses, there are organizations that aggressively seek to speak to students about what the Bible really teaches.

That is the best possible definition of proselytizing.  By definition, authentic Christian faith can’t be bought or coerced.  I hope and pray that this situation lasts and that the Gospel spreads from there to the rest of the region.

Your job description as a Christian

Well, at least part of your job description.  As I like to remind Christians, some, but not all, are called to be evangelists.

Ephesians 4:11 (ESV) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers . . .

So you may or may not be an evangelist.  But all are called to be ambassadors . . .

2 Corinthians 5:20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

. . . and all are called to be defenders of the faith (“apologists”).

1 Peter 3:15–16 (ESV) but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

So if you claim the name of Christ you may or may not be an evangelist, but you are definitely an apologist and an ambassador.  The only question is whether you are doing a good job.  You will be very glad when God uses your efforts to be able to share his truths with someone who is seeking them.

As the Wintery Knight asks, Can you dispense with apologetics and just preach the gospel when evangelizing?  I think they are intertwined, especially in our culture.  If you don’t subscribe to his blog you should start.

See the Apologetics links to the right for some great resources.  If I could only recommend one site it would be Stand to Reason.  Scour the site, listen to the Podcast and read Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions and you’ll be in great shape.  CARM.org is, great, too.

Also see these PowerPoint slides that I have used for a class at church called Defending Your Faith.  You are welcome to use or adapt them.  Now get to work!

Reverse missionaries & the Great De-Commission

u-turn.jpgA favorite updated for your reading pleasure.

Typical evangelism for any religion involves someone going out at some degree of expense and risk to share what one believes to be true.  It is a pretty simple and logical concept: If you think you know the true path to forgiveness, joy, peace and eternal life and you truly care about others, then of course you’ll want to share the Good News (regardless of how you define it).

However, some people hold the view that all religions are equally valid paths to God.  As I was reflecting on the discussions on the Jesus is still the only way thread, I was reminded that people who hold the “all religions are valid” view should have a completely different model of evangelism.  Wouldn’t it be most loving for them to send “reverse missionaries” to encourage everyone to follow their local religions?  After all, consider the persecuted people around the world who could avoid pain, suffering, economic loss, prison and even death if they just held beliefs more palatable to their culture.

For example, you’d want to send people to Christians in India, N. Korea, China, all Arab countries and more to explain to them that Hinduism/Islam/Buddhism/etc. are just as good and that they should leave Christianity to maximize their comfort and happiness.  If you follow any organizations like Voice of the Martyrs you are probably familiar with how much Christians suffer for their faith in many parts of the world.  Why suffer like that if other religions are just as good?

And loving universalists (those who believe everyone is going to Heaven, regardless of what they believe) should go to China to encourage people to be atheists.

What a tragedy that hundreds of thousands or even millions of Christians died unnecessarily for their faith over the centuries.  They should have just recanted and gone with the local religion, right?

What I’ve found is that religious pluralists and universalists do no such thing. They typically think their “home religion” is correct (why else would they belong to those denominations?) but are afraid to offend someone or risk rejection for sharing their view, or perhaps are unwilling to work to learn their beliefs well enough to defend them.

Shouldn’t false teachers who insist that all religions lead to God lend their time and money to being reverse missionaries?  Yet I never hear of them undertaking such efforts to reduce the “needless” suffering of Christians around the world.  Real faith is behaving as if what you say you believe is true.  Yet these folks don’t follow through to the logical consequences of their worldview.  This is one of the easiest ways to spot false teachers.

Of course, since I hold the view that Jesus is the one way to salvation then it is on my heart to share that with people.

If you encounter “Christians” claiming that other or even all religions are valid paths to God, ask them simply and politely if that means we should end Christian evangelism efforts and “evangelize” people to follow whatever “valid” religion will result in the least persecution for them.  It will help expose their false view and hopefully encourage them to think more carefully.  They shouldn’t judge God for “only” providing one way to salvation, they should be eternally grateful that He offered a way at all.

Weekend at Bernie’s theology

A favorite updated for your reading pleasure.

I read this great metaphor at a now-defunct blog about how the false teachers who don’t believe the essentials of the Christian faith have taken over many dead churches and propped them up to suit their motives.

In the not-so-classic movie Weekend at Bernie’s, two friends prop up a dead guy to make him appear alive so they can throw parties at his house. In the same way, theological Liberals don’t believe in the essentials of the faith (Jesus is God, He is the only way to eternal life, the Bible is authoritative and accurate, etc.), so they think they have a dead church on their hands.  They don’t have faith that God can still work through his Word to transform lives and cultures.

They prop it up, though, because they like the money, the influence, the buildings and the status that comes with their leadership roles. But they are frauds. They either lied at their ordination vows or changed their minds later. Either way, if they were honest they would stop accepting payment from their members for teaching the opposite of the beliefs the church was founded upon.

Their teachings are like salt water, leaving you thinking that you are having your spiritual thirst quenched but all the while killing you.

For a better analysis, read this by Charles Spurgeon. He wrote it in 1870 but the message is still fresh and applicable.

Bait & switch = bad idea. Forgetting to switch = really bad idea.

Worldly thinking has led countless churches to avoid many truths of scripture lest they offend non-believing visitors.  And when the churches grow to serve the larger numbers they get caught in a trap of their own making.  If they shift to focus on the entire Bible, they will lose members.  Then they won’t be able to keep the doors open.  That forces them to rationalize continued diluted or false messages.

The Bible teaches that we should not use trickery to share the Gospel.

1 Thessalonians 2:1-6 You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure. We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else.

Sadly, many churches water down the Gospel to avoid offending people.  They just want to get them in the door and plan to get around to the whole truth later.

Of course, we don’t want to add to the offense of the Gospel, but we shouldn’t distort it to avoid the legitimate offense.

But as bad as the bait & switch strategy is, the bigger problem is that the churches using this strategy forgot to make the switch.  And they used the bait for so long that they now think that is all they need to do.  They never get around to sharing the whole Gospel.  If your message never offends (in the appropriate Biblical sense) then you are preaching the wrong message (Hello, is Joel there?).

We shouldn’t dilute the message just to grow the numbers.  Hey, if youth groups offered free beer & p*rnography that would probably increase attendance, but are those the numbers that count?

And consider the mainline churches that continue to see declining figures.  The more “inclusive” they are the smaller they get.  They offend the world less, I suppose, but they have nothing left to offer the world, either.

I think it exhibits a lack of faith when we don’t trust God enough to preach his word in an undiluted fashion.  Does He really need us to edit it for him?

Consider this from a friend’s Facebook page:

‎The greatest revival in history took place among the most wicked people in history- the Ninevites. The message they heard was destruction was coming in forty days. Jonah impacted the whole city with this message and they responded by repenting. He had mega growth (in less than 40 days) without using mega growth methods. Here is a biblical model that worked with no problems -100% response. Jonah didn’t want to see these results but God did. Unless we learn the principle that God has not called us to be a success, but to be faithful to his message we will never learn the real meaning of our being God’s servants.

That can’t be right. What the people need is theater-style seating, entertainment and to be told how swell they are.

It is sad that people just think of the great fish when they think of Jonah, but there is so much more to that book. A reluctant preacher saying the real words of God means infinitely more than man’s “wisdom” in how to reach people.  No props, no gimmicks, no pandering, no appealing to people’s “felt needs” (unless that it is the felt need to be forgiven of one’s sins against a perfect and holy God).

Don’t distort the Gospel in an attempt to gain the whole world yet forfeit your soul.