Walk into many evangelical churches these days and we hear preachers trying to persuade unbelievers sitting in the pews to become ‘Christ followers’, the latest and most popular term for ‘Christian’. The underlying assumption in that everybody is a ‘follower’ of something or someone, whether that means someone/something outside of themselves or just ‘themselves’ period.
Methods of persuasion seem to mostly about why life can be so much better by following Jesus instead of whatever/whoever else you might be following. Jesus is presented as the best ‘life changer’. If the person charged with the persuading has done a good job, many decisions are made for Christ, to the delight of the ‘salvation’ bean counters.
We have favorite passages of scripture to give Biblical support to our ‘persuasion’ efforts, to include all of the ‘interesting’ methods we use. Specifically, there are two instances in which the term ‘persuade’ is used in connection with the Apostle Paul. The first is found in a letter to the Corinthian church:
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience.” – 2 Cor 5:10-11.
We remove a few words from their context, say that we also should be about the work of persuading others, and then devise ways to do the persuading that would be appealing to our hearers, that would secure a better life for them.
But is that what Paul was appealing to in those passages? Let’s take another look:
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience.”
Then we have the example of King Agrippa saying to Paul, while Paul was on trial:
“And Agrippa said to Paul, ’In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?’” –Acts 26:28
We take that verse out of the context of Paul mounting a defense at his trial (with a testimony of his conversion thrown in), and dash off down ‘Evangelism’ street everyone we meet how Jesus changed our lives for the better.
Let’s again take another look and see how Paul described his ‘changed life’:
“Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me.” – Acts 26:19-21
Paul’s message of sin and the need for repentance (also implying impending judgment) nearly got him killed! If we have read in our Bibles about Paul’s ministry, we also know that Paul’s post-conversion was quite the opposite of a ‘better’ life than the one he had as a Jewish religious leader.
Questions for the ‘evangelical’ believer, in light of Paul’s definition of the gospel message.
1. Where in scripture are we given permission to, or is it suggested that sometime in the future we might need to, change the contents of the gospel message?
2. IF we have not been explicit permission to change it, why did we change it?
Something to think about. . .