Thursday, August 14, 2014

Can We Preach the Gospel Without Words?

I am sure that you have heard the saying "Preach the Gospel, and if necessary use words."  I'm not going to get into the debate over the source of that quote, but mainly I just want to deal with whether it makes sense or not.  In doing so, I'd like to try to answer the following questions:
  1. Does this differentiate Christians from others?
  2. What are the implications of "preaching" the Gospel without words?
  3. Is this the Biblical model of evangelism?
  4. Does the way we live matter for our evangelism?
I am sure there is a lot more that could be discussed with regards to evangelism, but these are the main items I'd like to discuss with regards to this matter.  I will try to keep it short and to the point  (trying to follow some good advice). 

So let's start by looking at whether preaching the Gospel without using words differentiates us from people outside of Christianity.  My main question here is are there people who are not Christians that are good people in the eyes of the world?  Oprah, Ted Turner, Joel Osteen, and most Mormons are all nice, friendly people who do good things and are considered morally upright people.  Yet none of them are orthodox Christians and most people would look to them as good role models.  I'd say that it is pretty clear that we can't really differentiate ourselves from other good and morally upright people (in the world's eyes) without using words to explain the Gospel.

So now that we see that people of other beliefs can look just as good and upright as Christians, let's examine what implications there are for trying to evangelize without using words.  For one thing, you are saying that your actions will be enough to point somebody to Jesus.  As we just noted, though, people of other belief systems can live with some sense of peace, happiness, and moral uprightness.  To outsiders, the only difference is what we say we believe to get us to that point.  That only leads us to the post-modern thought that all roads lead to Heaven.  Also, if we are thinking our lives are good enough to evangelize, then in the end we are pointing to ourselves and not to Christ.  And if faith in Christ is necessary for salvation, then we are missing the mark.

Another question we should ask ourselves is whether this model of evangelism is shown in the Bible.  At the start of the church in Acts, what do we see the Apostles doing?  Peter stands up at Pentecost and clearly calls the Jews to trust in Jesus and repent.  Paul went throughout modern-day Turkey and southern Europe preaching repentance and faith in Jesus. He even preached the Gospel to all of the Roman emperor's guards (Philippians 1:12-14). I don't see any evangelism done in the Bible without words being spoken.  And I don't see any instruction for doing so, either.  I think it is safe to conclude that we should follow the model of the Biblical evangelists and use words to explain the truth.

So does the way we live have any impact on our evangelism?  I think that it is clear that we have to live our lives consistent with Scripture if we want to evangelize to others.  For one thing, how can we call others to repentance of sins if we are not doing the same ourselves as we walk in sanctification?  Won't that have some effect on how you are able to preach (stinging conscience and all)?  Also, what happens if the people you are evangelizing to find out about you pursuing some type of sin or refusing to repent of some type of sin?  They might think that Christians are no different from the rest of the world.  And if that is the case, why would they give up pursuing the sinful pleasures of this life?  We aren't perfect, but we should have a pattern of continual repentance and mortification of sin in our lives.  Then people can see that we are actually living out the truth of the Gospel in our lives.

Let me conclude by saying that how we live our lives is vitally important to our preaching of the Gospel.  However, living a life of faithful repentance while displaying the peace we have with God can never take the place of preaching the Gospel.  This is clearly demonstrated in the lives of the Apostles as the church was established.  Is there some reason that we should depart from the model given in the Bible?  Romans 1:16 says the Gospel is the power for salvation and Romans 10:14-15 says that people only believe when the Gospel is preached to them.  And God works through our presenting the Gospel to save amazing is that?  Why wouldn't any of us want to be a part of that?  Think about that the next time you wonder if you should explain the Gospel to an unbeliever you know. (Just so you know, I am looking at myself as I write this)