(This is another chapter from a book I recently released called “Beautiful and Believable: The Reason for My Hope.” It is available here, and an ebook version is available on Kindle, Apple Books, and Kobo.)
Does the way in which Christians are to relate to people outside of Christianity point to the reality of God? Is the engagement with others beautiful, or ugly? Some might immediately think of the Spanish inquisition, or their own personal inquisition in the presence of a zealous and chatty Christian who is intent on forcing Christianity down their throat. While people may not normally run from Christians, they may run from Christians they perceive to be on a mission! However, what we call “Christian mission” is beautiful for the following reasons.
First, freedom is beautiful. Imprisonment is always an ugly thing. With Christianity there is to be freedom. When we read the New Testament we find people freely choosing to be followers of Jesus. In the “Great Commission” of Matthew 28, Jesus did not say “go and force everyone to be a Christian,” but “go and make disciples.”
This means that everyone should have freedom to not be a Christian. Some religions and world-views use power to keep people in. We can think of fundamentalist versions of Islam. In some nations it is illegal to convert from Islam to another faith. My own children have been raised with a strong connection with the church family. But they are free to not be Christians. While my heart’s desire is that all three will follow Jesus, it is not my decision to make. They are free to choose their spirituality. As they grow into adulthood they will be free to also choose their connection with the church family. Sometimes we as Christians have made it difficult for people to leave the faith. That gets ugly. Freedom is beautiful.
There is also to be freedom for the non-Christian to not act like a Christian. Jesus did not say in Matthew 28 “go and make Christian nations, forcing everyone to have Christian morals,” but,
. . . go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”Matthew 28:19-20 (NLT emphasis added)
The New Living Translation goes beyond what is in the original Greek, but captures well for us who are to learn Christ’s ways, namely, his disciples. As a Canadian I have been watching the culture war in the States with interest. It seems that along with a desire to “make America great again” was a desire to ‘make America Christian again.’ However, forcing an entire nation to follow Jesus gets ugly. We are given to understand that Christianity is spreading like a virus in China. I imagine that the Chinese Christians are not fighting a culture war, but are focused on making disciples, one person at a time. That is not to say that Christians can not and should not be involved in politics. But when we are, let us not confuse making laws with making disciples.
We Christians have sometimes denied freedom to others, and sometimes still do. It has been and still is ugly. But we will not deny freedom if we are looking to Jesus, if the New Testament is our guide. Freedom is beautiful, and a Biblical Christianity promotes freedom.
Second, words are a beautiful way to share truth. Forced conversion through violence is ugly. Conversion through force or manipulation is something you will not find happening in the New Testament, nor is it something Jesus told us to do. Instead, we find people sharing what they knew to be true about Jesus simply by using good words and good deeds. You will not find a Christian going to war in the New Testament to ‘take the land for Jesus.’ You will find honest sharing. You will find conversations. You will not find warriors. You will find preachers, teachers, and people living quiet, but profoundly Christian, lives.
We Christians have sometimes resorted to power, and sometimes we still do. That is ugly. However, we will not use force if we are looking to Jesus, if the New Testament is our guide. It has been said that the pen is mightier than the sword. It is also a more beautiful method of reaching out to others. A Biblical Christianity promotes conversation and sharing through words and action.
Third, it is a beautiful thing to share good news. Keeping life-changing good news to oneself would be ugly. Keeping Jesus for ourselves would be ugly. Keeping quiet about the amazing news of God’s amazing grace would be ugly. Some religions may promote a ‘keep it to yourself’ attitude. That might be okay if you are keeping your love for liver and onions to yourself. But imagine finding the cure for cancer. It would be cruel to keep that to yourself. In Christ we have learned of the cure for death itself! We have learned that God has a love solution for our separation-from-God problem. Keeping that to ourselves would demonstrate an ugly, ugly lack of love for others. From the very earliest days, Christians have been involved in helping people come to know Jesus. Do we do share Jesus with others so that we can get to heaven? Nope! We share because sharing good news is a beautiful thing, a natural thing. The good news is too good to keep to ourselves.
The way Christians are to engage non-Christians is not ugly, but beautiful. Freedom is beautiful, words are a beautiful way to share truth, and sharing good news is beautiful. God’s call for how the Christian should engage with the non-Christian is beautiful, just as you would expect from a good God.