I have a feisty friend with an uncanny knack for sniffing out every freebie, bargain and giveaway on the planet. When I was a new mom, this friend easily roped me into her money-saving shenanigans. Thanks to her, I found myself reviewing products for pay, signing up for WIC benefits and scoring clothing for pennies on clearance racks.
At the time, I welcomed these small bites of financial relief given our limited income. But all of our deal hunting camaraderie came to a screeching halt one fateful fall day.
My friend called and told me about a local church offering free Thanksgiving turkeys and groceries to families in need. I balked at accepting a handout from a church but she reassured me that they always had plenty. Plus, she argued that if two moms on WIC didn’t qualify for a free Thanksgiving bird, no one did. So against my better judgement, I acquiesced.
It didn’t take long for me to second guess my participation. But just when I was about to call and cancel, her rusty SUV tore around the corner. She slammed on the brakes, leaned over to open the door and implored me to hurry or we’d be late. I slid into the seat and she sped away before I even had a chance to shut the door.
We whipped into the church parking lot and hurried to take our place in the long line of people filing into an auditorium. As I stood in the queue, I glanced around and took in my surroundings. I didn’t see any grocery bags or turkeys anywhere. Nor did I see anyone walking out with Thanksgiving fare.
Confused, I leaned over whispered that perhaps we were in the wrong place. She smiled brightly and reassured me that we were in exactly the right place – but the turkey would come later, after a brief presentation.
Noting a look of mischief in her eyes, I asked what kind of presentation. She shrugged and changed the topic. As we inched forward with the crowd, I pressed her for more details, which she artfully evaded. I finally dug in my heels, refusing to budge until she told me what was going on.
She sighed and sheepishly admitted that we had to listen to a presentation … on the gospel … before we got our bird.
Incensed, I dragged her out of line and growled that we were were leaving. Because there was no way I was listening to a gospel presentation to get a free turkey.
I am sure the turkey giveaway plan was heartfelt and well intentioned. And I am all for sharing the gospel. But to offer a free turkey (or anything) to struggling families on the condition that they sit through a sermon first felt wrong.
I just don’t think coercion is a proper vehicle for conversion. Particularly when a key tenet of the Christian faith is one’s free choice to follow Jesus.
Thankfully, outreach events that make charity contingent on a gospel presentation are rare. Yet I suspect they contributed, at least in-part, to turning proselytize into a four-letter word. But lately I have noticed the opposite problem. Increasingly, it seems that the trend is to divorce intentional evangelism from the work of justice altogether.
Some believe it is best to zip our lips about God and just let our loving actions speak. In this way, no one gets offended or assumes the aid being offered hinges upon a conversion. Plus, in the nonprofit arena, keeping mum on the Jesus stuff makes it a whole lot easier to raise funds from secular donors. And I am not unsympathetic to that conundrum.
Loving actions can certainly bear witness to the gospel and open doors to conversations about Christ. And believers must always remain respectful and grace-filled in our words when sharing our faith. But leaving any mention of Jesus out of an act of mercy seems just as wrong as making a gospel presentation a condition of the aid.
Where in the Bible are we told to remain silent on the gospel as we offer healing and mercy to the hurting?
When I read though the book of Acts, I see a tribe of sold out believers offering aid, healing the sick and boldly sharing the gospel alongside their acts of mercy. They were uncompromising in proclaiming Christ, even when dragged before leaders who wanted them killed for it.
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved. ~Acts 4:8-12
The early church didn’t let fear of repercussions silence them. In fact, any persecution they encountered on account of the name of Jesus only compelled them to pray for more boldness.
And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, ~Acts 4:29
Early believers never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news. And the church exploded with growth.
Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah. ~ Acts 5:42
Modern Christ followers would do well to follow this example. Because the reality is, in this broken and bruised world, we need more Christians to share their faith. Not fewer.
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” ~Romans 10:14-15
We are called to show radical and sacrificial acts of love, expecting nothing in return. Even a conversion. But we are also called to open our mouths and share, with actual words, Christ’s radical love. After all, the eternal hope and promises of Christ far outweigh any earthly comfort we can offer even the weariest soul.
Lovingly sharing the truth that Jesus is the only source of lasting hope is a far cry from holding a person’s aid hostage to a gospel presentation. So may we never equate the two.
Rather, lets obey the call to do the work of justice and boldly share truth with the suffering in our midst.
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, ~1 Peter 3:15